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 V.18 No.24 | June 11 - 17, 2009 

Film Review

Every Little Step

Broadway doc is one singular sensation. (Man, you could repeat these lyrics all day.)

First to bring the jazz hands gets canned
First to bring the jazz hands gets canned

Every Little Step

Directed by James D. Stern & Adam Del Deo

When you think about it, Every Little Step is a mind-bendingly meta experience. On its surface, it’s a simple, straightforward documentary that offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the casting of a big Broadway musical. And what musical would that be? A Chorus Line. Sounds familiar. What’s that about? Well, A Chorus Line offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the casting of a big Broadway musical.

We live in an age when reality shows, docu-reality shows and reality show competitions have largely taken over the airwaves, simultaneously expanding and diminishing the territory once owned exclusively by documentary films. Given that we can see show business stripped bare every week on “American Idol” or “Dancing With the Stars” or “America’s Got Talent,” what interest does a filmic documentary about A Chorus Line hold? Heck, if we wanna stick exclusively with reality shows about auditioning for musicals, we can choose from "Grease: You're the One That I Want!" or “Any Dream Will Do” or “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” or “Legally Blonde The Musical: The Search for Elle Woods.” What sets Every Little Step apart?

For starters, there’s the musical itself. Every dancer in the world wants a part in A Chorus Line. Not just because it’s a legendary, Tony-winning stage extravaganza, but because it’s about them. It’s about dancers. It’s about their lives. It’s about their struggles. It’s about the emotional roller coaster they subject themselves to in auditioning for a role—even one as lowly as a member of the chorus line.

The original stage version was put together by choreographer Michael Bennett, who conceived of the production by recording a dozen hours’ worth of conversations with his dancer friends. Those original reel-to-reel recordings are interspersed throughout the auditions depicted in Every Little Step. Many of those conversations are reproduced verbatim in the book for A Chorus Line, proving that this musical is no mere show biz confabulation. The show went on to form the perfect storm over Broadway, attracting the assistance of famed composer Marvin Hamlisch and legendary Broadway producer Joseph Papp. It danced away with nine Tony Awards in 1975 and captured a 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

As Every Little Step walks us through the laborious process of casting a triumphant 2006 Broadway revival of A Chorus Line, it details the creation of the musical itself. This is crucial, not only because of the fact that the original performers were essentially playing themselves on stage, but because many of those original creators are working on the revival. The countless hopefuls (around 3,000) lined up on the sidewalk of 42nd Street will be dancing and singing and acting their hearts out for Bennett’s longtime collaborator Bob Avian. (Bennett himself passed away in the ’80s.) They’ll also be doing it in front of some of the original cast members. Imagine, if you can, the pressure on some young actress trying out for the role of “Connie” while Baayork Lee looks on. Not only did Lee originate the role on Broadway, giving her a certain provenance, her conversations with Bennett provided all the background on the character, a spunky but undersized Asian-American gal trying to muscle her way onto the Great White Way. Lee is Connie. It’s like auditioning for the role of Mozart while standing in front of Mozart. Like I said, very meta.

Believe it or not, it’s a year and a half between the first cattle call and the raising of the curtain on Broadway. As the months roll on and the hopefuls are slowly culled down to the last few shining stars, Every Little Step starts to suffer just slightly under the shadow of “American Idol” et al. We’re intimately familiar with this process by now: The emotional backstories, the tension of the competition, the cracking under pressure, the tears of the losers, the dreams of the winners. Fortunately, Every Little Step doesn’t go out of its way to manufacture interpersonal drama. There are no catfights here, no comic relief performers, no evil judges, no gals in bikinis. This is all about the show. And it shows. Whether or not these performers make the final cut is in some ways irrelevant. These people are dedicated, addicted even, to the art of the dance. And few (very few) will ever get the chance at a starring role. But they all know each other. They’ve all been through this process of acceptance and rejection a thousand times or more. (Unlike the amateurs on “American Idol.”) The sense of camaraderie these professional performers have is palpable. Win or lose, each is starring in his or her own real-life version of A Chorus Line.

The story of A Chorus Line is the story of Broadway—its highs, its lows and the ever-shining promise of the spotlight. The story of Every Little Step is the story of A Chorus Line—which, as we just established, is the story of Broadway. If you’re looking for a documentary about the casting of a Broadway musical about the casting of a Broadway musical, Every Little Step fits the bill with emotion, energy and sly, self-referencial verve.

Every Little Step; Directed by James D. Stern & Adam Del Deo; Unrated; Opens Friday, 6/12.


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