The musical was formed from several taped workshop sessions with Broadway dancers, known as "gypsies," including eight who eventually appeared in the original cast. The sessions were originally hosted by dancers Michon Peacock and Tony Stevens. The first taped session occurred at the Nickolaus Exercise Center on January 26, 1974. They hoped that they would form a professional dance company to make workshops for Broadway dancers.
Michael Bennett was invited to join the group primarily as an observer, but quickly took control of the proceedings. Although Bennett’s involvement has been challenged, there has been no question about Kirkwood and Dante’s authorship. In later years, his claim that A Chorus Line had been his brainchild resulted in not only hard feelings but a number of lawsuits as well. During the workshop sessions, random characters would be chosen at the end for the chorus jobs, resulting in genuine surprise among the cast. Subsequent productions, however, have the same set of characters winning the slots. Marvin Hamlisch, who co-wrote "A Chorus Line's" winning score, recalls how in its first previews, audiences seemed put off by something in the story. Actress Marsha Mason told Bennett that Cassie (Donna McKechnie), because she did everything right, should win the part and not lose. Bennett changed it so that Cassie would win the part.
A Chorus Line opened Off Broadway at The Public Theater on April 15, 1975. At the time, the Public did not have enough money to finance the production. They borrowed $1.6 million in order to produce the show. The show was directed and co-choreographed (with Bob Avian) by Bennett.
Advance word had created such a demand for tickets that the entire run sold out immediately. Producer Joseph Papp moved the production to Broadway, and on July 25, 1975 it opened at the Shubert Theatre, where it ran for 6.137 performances until April 28, 1990.
The production was nominated for 12 Tony Awards, winning nine: Best Musical, Best Musical Book, Best Score (Hamlisch and Kleban), Best Director, and Best Choreography, Best Actress (McKechnie), Best Featured Actor (Sammy Williams), Best Featured Actress (Bishop) and Best Lighting Design. The show won the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, one of the few musicals ever to receive this honor, and the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play of the season.
In 1976, many of the original cast went on to perform in the Los Angeles production. Open roles were recast and the play was again reviewed as the "New" New York Company which included Ann Reinking, Sandahl Bergman, Christopher Chadman, Justin Ross (who would go on to appear in the film), and Barbara Luna.
When it closed, A Chorus Line was the longest running show in Broadway history until its record was surpassed by Cats in 1997 and Les Misérables and The Phantom of the Opera in 2002. On September 29, 1983, Bennett and 330 A Chorus Line veterans came together to produce a show to celebrate the musical becoming the longest-running show in Broadway history. A Chorus Line generated $277 million USD in revenue and had 6.5 million Broadway attendees. Since its inception, the show's many worldwide productions, both professional and amateur, have been a major source of income for The Public Theater.
By 1991, four of the five original creators had died; Bennett, Kirkwood, and Dante from complications of AIDS-related diseases, and Kleban from cancer.
U.S. and international tours were mounted in 1976, including a run in Los Angeles at the Shubert Theatre in Century City.
A London production opened in the West End at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1976. It ran for several years. Jane Summerhays and Geraldine Gardner (aka Trudi van Doorn of the Benny Hill Shows), played Sheila in the London production. The production won the Laurence Olivier Award as Best Musical of the Year 1976, the first year in which the awards were presented. Joan Illingworth was also down to the last two to appear.
The Broadway revival opened at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater on October 5, 2006 following a run in San Francisco. The revival closed on August 17, 2008 after 759 performances and 18 previews. It cost $8 million to finance and made back its investment in 19 weeks. The production was directed by Bob Avian, with the choreography reconstructed by Baayork Lee, who had played Connie Wong in the original Broadway production. The opening night cast included Paul McGill, Michael Berresse, Charlotte d'Amboise, Mara Davi, James T. Lane, Heather Parcells, Alisan Porter, Jason Tam, Jessica Lee Goldyn and Chryssie Whitehead. On April 15, 2008 Mario Lopez joined the cast as the replacement for Zach.
The production received two Tony Award nominations in 2007 for Featured Role (Charlotte d'Amboise) and Revival (Musical). The original contract for A Chorus Line provided for sharing the revenue from the show with the directors and dancers that had attended the original workshop sessions. However, the contract did not specify revenue when the musical was revived in 2006. In February 2008, an agreement was reached with the dancers and Michael Bennett's estate.