This is going to be a great concert! Be sure to buy your tickets and plan to come if you live in the area. See the sidebar for the link.
Is “What I Did for Love” a love song?
No, if by “love song” you mean a song about romantic love. It is, however, a song about passion, in this case a passion for dancing. This selection is taken from the enormously popular musical A Chorus Line, which ran for over 6,000 performances in its initial run on Broadway starting in 1975.
The entire action of the musical takes place on a bare stage, although there are plenty of props and also some imaginative use of mirrors. The dancer and choreographer Michael Bennett wanted to show what the life of a “gypsy” (a chorus dancer) was really like, and the script started out as a series of tape-recorded stories of real dancers talking about their personal and professional lives as they got together after rehearsals for other shows. Eventually the arc of the story was developed as a series of scenes from initial tryouts for the musical through to the point at which the final casting decisions have been made and the chorus line has been chosen. Along the way the hopefuls are asked to tell how they got into dance. Each one has come to this life by a different route. There's a double layer of meaning here, if you think about it: the cast performing the musical has had to go through tryouts in order to now perform onstage the story of a prospective cast going through tryouts.
The immediate context of “What I Did” is a potentially career-ending event: a dancer falls during a tap routine and re-injures a knee that has just had surgery. He's carted off to the hospital, and the cast is left to realize that the same thing could happen to any one of them. So they're asked by the director. “If today was the day you had to stop dancing, how would you feel?” Immediately the character Cassie responds with the song. All of the dancers feel the way she does: they have poured their lives into dancing and can't regret having done so even with all the dashed hopes along the way.
When you realize that this is a love song addressed to a pursuit and not a person the words make much more sense. “Kiss today good-bye,” refers to the director's question about the end of a dancing career, not to the end of a love affair. “We did what we had to do” to be able to dance, and now the one who will no longer participate in the “sweetness and the sorrow” asks her colleagues/competitors to “wish me luck.” In the end, whatever happens, anyone who has focused all her hopes on this one thing “can't regret what I did for love.” Taken line by line, this piece is a moving portrait of someone who has given her all to something she knows will come to an end. As I was writing this commentary I was reminded of an article I once read about piano players participating in a competition. Those players had to realize that they loved something passionately, the piano, that could never love them back. That's how these dancers feel. One day, if not today, it will all end. But their “love is never gone.” No matter what, they'll remember what it was like to be up on the stage and dance.