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Knight at the Movies: Every Little Step; film notes
by Richard Knight, Jr.
2009-05-13

This article shared 2932 times since Wed May 13, 2009
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Every Little Step, the riveting documentary that tracks the audition process for the 2006 revival of A Chorus Line—the landmark 1975 Broadway musical centered on, yes, auditioning for a Broadway musical—lives up to the famous lyric phrase "singular sensation" taken from its show-stopping finale, "One." It's a singular sensation all right, and it's the movie that A Chorus Line fans will quickly tell you has been too long in getting here.

For those who have watched Bob Fosse's All That Jazz for 30 years, wishing that the dance auditions he captured so thrillingly in the film's opening minutes would go on for a full movie; for all those who have tried repeatedly to watch the wretched 1985 film version of A Chorus Line—hoping against hope that maybe this time, somehow magically, it wouldn't stink; for those who have waited patiently to see a movie that would explain from start to finish what all the fuss over A Chorus Line has been about for the uninitiated, this is the movie for … us.

My excitement over co-directors Adam Del Deo and James D. Stern's terrifically entertaining documentary, I admit, stems in part from my somewhat hysterical appreciation of the show itself. I'm an affirmed showtune junkie and a performer myself and, really, has any musical ever articulated so perfectly and precisely the pluses and minuses of any career in the arts and kicked major entertainment butt while doing it? That's exactly the happy/sad, exuberant message of Del Deo and Stern's movie. And for those who have little or no theatrical bent, not a drop of showtune blood coursing through their veins or a smidgen of familiarity or even liking for musicals? Well, you poor things, I pity you and promise to lend you my Sondheim cast albums but fear not: Even without a musical theatre pedigree you'll find Every Little Step a fascinating, gripping roller-coaster. That's because the movie, in following dancers hoping to get cast in the revival, serves as a sort of big-screen version of a reality-TV show that any fan of Project Runway, Dancing with the Stars and many other series could hope for.

Though there are no amateurs here and the "challenges" are professional ones, with the creative team behind the revival putting the hopefuls through a battery of them—including dance routines, singing and performing monologues—the result is roughly the same as RuPaul's Drag Race. For hundreds of hopefuls, there are only 19 roles in the show. Again and again, the performers are winnowed down ( without the aid of audience call-in votes to "save them until next week" ) and the grueling process takes eight months. Eventually, as the filmmakers capture this lengthy period, of course, we come to know several of the front-runners and form our own casting choices. Some of mine the members of the creative team agreed with ( like Jason Tam, who captures all the heartbreak of the gay character's monologue at his audition, bringing the hardened professionals to tears and getting hired on the spot ) and some they didn't ( the final actress/dancer/singer chosen for the role of Sheila, for one ) .

The historical overview of the show that frames the reality contest of the movie is just as compelling. In addition to offering a long-overdue tribute to the driving creative force behind the show, the late Michael Bennett ( who succumbed to AIDS in 1987 ) , Del Deo and Stern include rare audio snippets of the original reel-to-reel tapes recorded by Bennett when he first gathered together the group of dancers to share their stories. Interviews with surviving members of the creative team—including composer Marvin Hamlisch, Donna McKechnie and other original cast members—balance the story. And best for A Chorus Line junkies like myself is the inclusion of never-before-seen video clips ( outside of a visit to the archives at Lincoln Center ) of theater footage of the original production. Reading all the hurrahs for the Tony Award-winning performance of McKechnie as leading dancer Cassie and hearing her on the recording is nothing compared to seeing moments of her thrilling solo number, "Music and the Mirror." ( It's akin to what one felt finally seeing the excised, long-thought-lost Judy Garland numbers in A Star Is Born. )

The historical overview, archival footage and snippets of the audio tapes are worth the price of admission alone for dedicated A Chorus Line fans, while the drama inherent in the reality-show approach of the filmmakers makes Every Little Step audience-friendly. It might even help a few more closeted showtune queens out there ( you know who you are ) step out and publicly acknowledge their love of musicals. We are legion!

Film notes:

—Hell in a Handbag Productions, the theater company noted for its hilarious film-parody shows, presents the second of their staged reading series Dueling Divas! ( Joan Crawford vs. Gloria Swanson ) on Friday, May 15, at Hydrate, 3458 N. Halsted, at 8 p.m. "Saturday Night Live" alumna Nora Dunn was supposed to play the title role of silent-movie queen ( and camp goddess ) Norma Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard, but she had to cancel due to unforeseen circumstances. However, Scott Bradley of Scooty and Jojo ( Carpenter's Halloween and Diva Brunch ) will be appearing as Swanson's Norma Desmond. Tickets are $25 each; call 800-838-3006, or visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/60117.

—Ask Not, a forthcoming episode of the PBS series "Independent Lens" that explores the U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ( DADT ) policy, will be screened Saturday, May 16, at 2 p.m. at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, in the Claudia Cassidy Theatre, located on the second floor. The screening will be followed by a group panel discussion that will include Windy City Times' director of new media Jean Alright, a former military member who will appear on behalf of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an organization working to repeal DADT. Admission is free and open to the public. See www.myspace.com/communitycinemachicago.

Check out my archived reviews at www.windycitytimes.com or www.knightatthemovies.com . Readers can leave feedback at the latter Web site.


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