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Lead actress in ‘A Chorus Line’ got early start at The Muny

Madison Johnson, center, rehearses with the cast of “A Chorus Line.”
Madison Johnson, center, rehearses with the cast of “A Chorus Line.” Provided

Madison Johnson started dance lessons at age 2 1/2, and hasn’t stopped.

Now she is playing Kristine in “A Chorus Line,” a dream role, at The Muny. The production runs through Friday.

Johnson, 24, shares similarities with her character in that they both grew up in St. Louis. Her mother, Renee Johnson, ran a dance studio.

“To do this show is so special. It hits so close to home for me. And it’s a pride thing, being from St. Louis,” she said.

The premise for this groundbreaking 1975 musical was simple: 17 dancers at an audition. Their dreams are our dreams. The show became an unprecedented commercial and critical hit, winning nine Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for drama, and held the record as the longest-running Broadway show for 14 years, from 1983 to 1997. It is sixth on the all-time list now, at 6,137 performances.

The Muny production is the seventh time the show has been at Forest Park, the last presentation was in 2002.

“This show is still relevant. It’s timeless. I provide much-needed comic relief in my character’s song, ‘Sing!’ It’s really great being a part of it, being on the line is very humbling. It’s what I wanted to be,” she said, talking after a long day’s rehearsal.

“I identify with this message, that being part of the line is a beautiful thing, the precision, to craft a number with everyone else. We serve for the good of the show,” she said.

And she can sing, too. A veteran performer at the Muny for the past five summers, she started as a Muny Kid when she was 7. Her first role was as a Munchkin in “The Wizard of Oz.” She was part of the Lullabye League.

Johnson_Madison MJ
Madison Johnson plays Kristine this week in “A Chorus Line” at The Muny. James Prifti

“I came out on point. It was very special,” she said.

Among her favorite roles, she played Frenchie in 2014’s “Grease.”

A graduate of Whitfield School and Elon College, she moved to New York City in 2016. This spring, she was in “Mary Poppins” at Paper Mill Playhouse in Milburn, N.J., directed by Denis Jones, the director and choreographer of “A Chorus Line” and last summer’s “42nd Street.”

She received her Actors Equity card her sophomore year in college, and credits Mike Isaacson, Muny executive producer and artistic director, and Megan Larche Dominick, casting director, with helping her career through Muny productions.

“Having worked at the Muny, We have this network of proud alumni in New York City,” she said. “I am so thankful for the Muny. Every summer, when I come back, it feels like home. Everyone works so hard. I have made so many great friends there.”

This show is still relevant. It’s timeless. I provide much-needed comic relief in my character’s song, ‘Sing!’ It’s really great being a part of it, being on the line is very humbling. It’s what I wanted to be.

Madison Johnson, who plays Kristine in “A Chorus Line”

Despite show credits, everyone must audition every spring. “You have to earn your spot for the opportunity to come back,” she said.

The way the Muny operates, producing seven shows a season with limited rehearsal time, she compared it to “Brigadoon,” the fictional city that only shows up every 100 years in the Lerner and Loewe musical.

“It’s like jumping into the deep end. We only have three weeks to put on a show, to make Muny magic happen,” she said.

But the work on “A Chorus Line” has been gratifying.

“This show teaches you to care about other people. It has reminded me to listen,” she said.

“Denis, the director, takes it and makes it better, what looks at what we can do to make it better. In our third day of rehearsal, I looked around and everyone had tears in their eyes during ‘At the Ballet.’ And it was only our third day.”

Having embarked on a performing career, she said, you learn lessons all the time.

“It’s about being patient, keep doing the work, keep working hard,” she said.

“A Chorus Line”

  • Where: The Muny
  • When: July 29 – Aug. 4
  • Information: www.muny.org
  • Box Office: 314-361-1900
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