By Gale Fiege Herald Writer
After graduating from Cascade High School in 2004, Paul Flanagan hightailed it to New York City.
There he attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. He auditioned for Broadway shows and made a living by walking dogs, catering and other odd jobs.
It was a life illustrated by the opening scene from the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1975 musical “A Chorus Line,” in which dancers desperate for work are vying for spots in the chorus of a new musical.
Appropriately, while in New York, Flanagan was cast in the national touring company of the Broadway revival of “A Chorus Line.”
Flanagan reprises his role as Al for Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre’s production of the musical, opening for previews Sept. 3. He also serves as dance captain for the production.
The directors at 5th Avenue couldn’t be more pleased, said the theater’s public relations manager Bridget Summers.
“I am glad to be back home,” Flanagan said. “And humbled to be getting work and grateful to be in my second show at the 5th.”
Flanagan, 28, grew up in Everett, where his parents, Kari and Steve Flanagan, tried tirelessly to get him involved in sports.
“Then when I was 11, my folks let me take my first dance class,” he said.
At Betty Spooner’s dance school in downtown Everett, teacher Michael Jordan encouraged Flanagan, then just a young teen, to consider a dance career.
During the summer before his junior year at Cascade, Flanagan took a workshop from American Ballet Theatre.
“After that I knew I wouldn’t be a successful ballet dancer,” he said. “I’m not tall and I’m certainly not a prodigy. But musical theater seemed right for me. I loved to sing and act, even in high school.”
Flanagan was a member of the jazz choir at Cascade, participated in Village Theatre’s KidStage program and, among other shows, performed in “Oklahoma!” with Civic Light Opera, now known as Seattle Musical Theatre.
At the theater academy in New York City, Flanagan didn’t complete the full two years of the program.
“I didn’t want to waste anymore time,” he said. “I started auditioning.”
Mostly he was booked into shows outside the city: Summer stock in upstate New York, regional theater in South Carolina. However, Flanagan also was cast in Nickelodeon’s “Backyardigans” tour and TV show as Pablo the singing penguin.
After the 2006 revival of the Tony award-winning “A Chorus Line” on Broadway, the show and Flanagan went on the road.
“We worked with Baayork Lee, the original Connie in the show,” Flanagan said. “It was incredible. Our fist rehearsal was a history lesson about how they created the musical.”
After eight months of touring, Flanagan was back pounding the pavement in Manhattan. As can happen in New York, he was mugged, but continued to audition and do the odd jobs he needed to stay alive in the city. But you can’t plan for the taxi that is going to alter to course of your career.
On a wintry day in December of 2011, Flanagan was riding his bike and was hit by a cab, breaking his tibia, a bone below the knee.
Not a good thing for a dancer.
“After eight years in the city, I could no longer afford to stay in New York,” he said. “You have to be able to walk.”
He flew home to recover, helped by his parents and the resident surgeon for Pacific Northwest Ballet.
After recovering, Flanagan started back in the business with Village Theatre’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof” in late 2012 and early 2013. During the past year, he took on other chorus ensemble turns in “Chicago” for Village and in “Oliver!” at the 5th.
“I have been surprised at how emotional this process has been for me,” Flanagan said. “?‘A Chorus Line’ was the last show I did before the accident. The injury to my entire body — because your foot alignment affects your shoulders and everything else — was so great that being able to conquer this role again and to do the same choreography is such a joy.
“You don’t know how incredible dance is until you can’t.”
Flanagan had moved to New York without ever thinking he would return home.
“I even took my high school yearbooks with me,” he said. “So coming back involved working through feelings of failure. When I got over my ego, I fell in love with Seattle and stopped comparing it to New York.”
Flanagan said he is pleased to be part of the talented and supportive regional theater community.
“Now I think the accident happened for a reason,” said Flanagan.
His parents plan to attend “A Chorus Line” at the 5th Avenue at least five times, Flanagan said.
“I love this show. The core components are still relevant to our society,” he said. “It resonates with so many of us because of the fight-or-flight feelings of auditions, or even job interviews.”
During the musical, the audience gets to know and appreciate the individual characters, who all are struggling to be noticed.
“And then in the finale, you can’t tell who is who because they’re all in the same costumes,” Flanagan said. “And that is the brilliance of the show. As dancers in the chorus we work so hard putting our hearts and souls into our work. But in the end we are not the stars.”
“A Chorus Line” plays Sept. 3 through 28 at the 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave., Seattle. Ticket prices start at $29 and are available at www.5thavenue.org or by phone at 206-625-1900.
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @galefiege.