Every Little Step (Sony Pictures Classics, PG-13)

film_every-little-step_sm.jpgThe film is particularly worth seeing for the unprecedented view it offers of the casting process for a Broadway musical.





A Chorus Line is a masterpiece; Every Little Step, the new documentary about A Chorus Line, is not. But it’s still pretty good, and particularly worth seeing for the unprecedented view it offers of the casting process for a Broadway musical.

Two stories are told in Every Little Step: the creation of the musical A Chorus Line in 1974-75 and the casting of the 2006 Broadway revival of the same show. The first part is a bit sketchy for anyone who doesn’t already know the story, and rather remarkably fails to mention the key role of the show’s writers, creating the impression that the book and lyrics somehow leaped out of Michael Bennett’s tape recorder and onto the page without the efforts of Edward Kleban (lyrics) and James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante (book). Granted all three are dead and thus are not available to be interviewed, but that’s a poor excuse for such a major omission.

We see very little of the original production, probably because of the poor quality of the archival materials available. But using clips from Richard Attenborough’s misbegotten movie version was a poor choice: It suggests the filmmakers don’t know the difference between the real thing and a gaudy imitation. The shadowy black-and-white clip of Sammy Williams delivering Paul’s monologue in the original production says more in a few seconds than all the high-production glitz Attenborough could muster does in two hours.

Every Little Step is on firmer ground with the 2006 revival; the filmmakers’ great coup was winning the right (which required six months of negotiations with Actors Equity, the union for professional actors and stage managers) to film the audition process. Auditions are inherently dramatic: You begin with a large group of attractive, talented people (reportedly over 3,000 were seen for a show with 26 roles) and gradually eliminate almost all of them.

Rather than explore any individual stories in depth, Stern and Del Deo chose to concentrate on the impersonality of the audition process, often cleverly splicing together footage of many performers singing the same song. The brief profiles of a few dancers (the girl from suburban New Jersey, the overconfident jerk who views dancing in this show as interchangeable with being cast on a soap opera…as long as he wins awards for it) seem out of place; they’re too superficial to be interesting and leave me wishing for more audition footage instead.

I don’t think it’s intentional, but Every Little Step highlights a troubling contrast between the Broadway when A Chorus Line was created, and the Broadway of today. In the 1970s, New York City was in deep financial trouble (the famous headline "Ford to City: Drop Dead" appeared on October 30, 1975) but Broadway was teeming with creativity: Chicago came out the same year as A Chorus Line, and Company, Follies and A Little Night Music premiered in the first half of the decade as well. But in 2006 New York was booming while Broadway had become the home of big, glitzy productions like Jersey Boys and The Drowsy Chaperone. No room for bare stages and wrenchingly personal stories in those shows; they’ve been replaced by shiny surfaces and stage technology.

Since we never get to know any of the dancers auditioning for the revival of A Chorus Line (although there is lots of mugging for the camera and lots of sound bites about how much they love to dance and how they hope they get this job) we’ll never know if any of them have personal stories worth telling. Could a new musical be made out of their experiences, and would it have the power to reduce a hardened audition committee to tears? That really happened with Jason Tam’s audition for Paul. (Needless to say, he got the part.) But what is Tam’s story? That will have to wait for another film. | Sarah Boslaugh

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