Every Little Step

Every Little Step

Director: Adam Del Deo & James D. Stern
Starring: Bob Avian, Baayork Lee, Michael Bennett and Donna McKechnie
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Runtime: 92 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Coarse language


This outstanding documentary has a genuinely gut-wrenching moment. The film is about the audition process for the 2006 Broadway revival of the blockbuster 1970s musical ‘A Chorus Line’, which is all about dancers’ desperation to put their talent on the line auditioning for a Broadway musical.

The show’s creator, the late director/choreographer Michael Bennett, got the raw material by encouraging 22 New York dancers to talk about their lives as he taped them. Then his Tony Award-winning musical dramatised their accounts of the compulsion to dance and the agony and the ecstasy of the audition process. Now Every Little Step documents real-life audition process for a revival of that show about the audition process. You can’t help thinking of those Russian matryoshka dolls that fit inside one another.

The moment that will live in many people’s minds is when a young actor comes to read for the scene in A Chorus Line when dancer Paul describes his parents’ reactions to his first appearance in a drag show and therefore their realisation that he is homosexual. The auditionee is doing the speech before a panel of hardened Broadway veterans who include the director Bob Avian (Bennett’s assistant choreographer for the original production) and the choreographer Baayork Lee (who created the role of diminutive Connie, based on her own life). You’d think they have seen it all. But this young actor’s performance is so intense, so alive, so emotional that the panel members cannot control their tears.

People talk about “reality television” – well, pshaw! Nothing I have seen on TV matches the searing reality of this moment. And the whole documentary is invested with something of the same veracity.

Actors’ Equity granted “unprecedented access” to the auditions, so film-makers Adam Del Deo & James D. Stern were able to shoot across a wide range of auditionees – the good, the not-quite-so-good, the cocky, the terrified, the lucky, the unlucky. As a group they are terrific young people, and you are going to adopt some of them as your favourites. But not all can succeed, and you will feel the loss if your favourite misses out.

Auditioning for A Chorus Line was a ruthless, protracted business. Some 3000 dancer-singer-actors paraded before the casting panel. These were gradually whittled down in a series of call-backs spread over many months until only the final 26 remained. They all knew what rejection was like – one girl describes the business of being a Broadway dancer as “one hundred Nos to one Yes” – but they were all fierce in their mindsets about dance being their whole life. The film, superbly shot and assembled and edited, with liberal use of the marvellous score by composer Marvin Hamlisch and the late lyricist Ed Kleban, captured both the lip-gnawing anxiety and the giddy excitement of the business.

It is also a fascinating historical document because it uses excerpts from Bennett’s original tape sessions to illustrate how closely A Chorus Line reflects the real-life experiences of those dancers. And composer Hamlisch recounts how a couple of felicitous alterations to the show when it was not setting the world on fire in preview performances – changing the title of one song, adding a new ending – made all the difference.

One interesting dancer-singer vying for the pivotal tole of Cassie is Charlotte d’Amboise, daughter of former New York City Ballet principal dancer Jacques d’Amboise, who appeared in such films as Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Carousel. He makes a brief appearance talking about how he had to readjust his life when circumstances brought an abrupt end to his dancing career.

If you have never auditioned for a chorus line in a big musical, this film shows you palpably what it is like. And incidentally, it shows how accurately legendary Broadway choreographer-director Bob Fosse captured the whole thing in his 1979 drama All That Jazz – still for my money one of the best films ever.

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