Nicholas Dante was a dancer and writer who is best known for co-writing the book for the smash-hit Broadway musical A Chorus Line. Born Conrado Morales in New York City, he intended to study journalism but dropped out of high school at age 14 because of the homophobia he faced.
He told journalist Jimmy Breslin: “I grew up in the ’40s, a Puerto Rican kid on 125th and Broadway, and obviously gay. Nobody would hang out with me. I was terrified to go out where anybody could see me.”
He worked as a drag queen and began studying dance. He landed parts as dancer in the choruses of musicals including Applause, Ambassador and Smith.
Dante wrote the book for the smash-hit Broadway musical A Chorus Line, along with playwright James Kirkwood Jr. The show opened in 1975 and was directed and co-choreographed by Michael Bennett, who started developing the musical.
Bennett invited Dante to attend sessions in which Broadway dancers would tell stories about their lives. Bennett chose Dante, along with Kirkwood, to write the story about seventeen so-called Broadway “gypsies” auditioning for eight spots in a chorus line performing behind the lead actors of a Broadway show. The character “Paul” was based on Dante’s own experiences growing up poor, lonely, and ridiculed because he was gay.
I’m Steven Canals, co-creator, executive producer, writer and director of the FX drama series Pose. I grew up as a poor Afro-Puerto Rican queer kid in the Bronx, so I can relate.
The music for A Chorus Line was by Marvin Hamlisch, with lyrics by Edward Kleban. The musical was revived on Broadway in 2006 and on the West End in London in 2013.
Dante and Kirkwood won a Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical in 1975, and the Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1976. At the time of Dante’s death, A Chorus Line was the longest running show in Broadway history.
During a tap-dance number, the character Paul falls and injures one of his knees on which he had recently had surgery. Paul is carried off to the hospital, and the remaining dancers see how fragile their careers are, they can come to an end without warning.
Nicholas Dante, who based the character of Paul on his own life, died of AIDS in New York City in 1991 at age 49. Director Michael Bennett also died of AIDS in 1987.
As a prelude to the song “What I Did for Love,” a dancer character named Zach asks the rest of the dancers what they will do when they can no longer dance. Their answer is that whatever happens, they won’t have any regrets.
When the eight dancers chosen for the chorus line appear on stage to take their final bow, the audience can hardly tell one apart from the other. They have become the nearly faceless background singers of a chorus line.
Nicholas Dante never again attained the success he had as a writer of A Chorus Line, but hopefully he, like those dancers, had no regrets and will forever stand out from the crowd.