When the revival of A Chorus Line was in the talking stages in early 2006, producer John Breglio approached filmmakers Adam Del Deo ( left ) and James D. Stern ( right ) about documenting the audition process. The co-directors, who had previously worked together on several films including The Year of Yao, a basketball documentary, would seem an unlikely choice. But Stern is also a longtime theatre producer and Del Deo a confirmed A Chorus Line fan. Every Little Step—the resulting film opening May 15 that combines the long audition process to cast the revival and a history of the groundbreaking first production in 1975, conceived by the late director-choreographer Michael Bennett ( who succumbed to the AIDS virus in 1987 ) —is tremendously entertaining. Part reality show, part history lesson, the movie is indeed a singular sensation.
Windy City Times: For such A Chorus Line junkie as myself, it was stunning to see and hear audio from the original tapes with the dancers and Michael Bennett that formed the basis of the show. How did you get access to them?
James D. Stern: John Breglio, who was the producer of the revival and executive producer of the film, was the executor of Michael Bennett's estate. Michael had always said to John, "You know, I hate this movie of A Chorus Line that Richard Attenborough did. If anybody ever did a movie it should be a documentary, not a feature." John always remembered that and he'd seen our film So Goes the Nation and since I've produced 16 Broadway and off-Broadway shows I knew John through the years. So he called to see if we'd be interested in doing this, and when he told us that we'd have access to the tapes I was incredibly excited and I called Adam.
Adam Del Deo: Yes, Jim gave me a call and it was great to think about being involved in the revival of such an iconic show. What was also interesting cinematically was an opportunity to follow dancers through New York going through an audition process trying to get a job "on the line." There was a natural mirror in place with what Michael Bennett originally created with A Chorus Line. The audio tapes were a wonderful element to be able to add to help bring the original production back to life.
WCT: It's stunning to hear those and it's also stunning to see clips of Donna McKechnie, who starred in the original, from the archival tape of the original production. That's unheard of. You have to go to Lincoln Center to see that tape and it's one at a time in a little booth. How did you get permission to include that material?
AD: That was very much a process. We dealt with Lincoln Center and all the unions had to sign off on that footage. In addition, this was the first time that Equity allowed cameras to record the audition process from beginning to end.
WCT: As you shot the initial auditions, did you feel the ghosts of Michael Bennett and Bob Fosse's famed All That Jazz sequence hanging over the process?
JS: I did. Boy, you're very smart to say that. No one's actually mentioned Fosse, who I think is actually a kind of spectral figure in all of this.
WCT: You're kidding!
JS: No, no one's mentioned Fosse and he's always in my thoughts—obviously, not as much as Michael but he's always there. My favorite line in the movie is when Michael says, "I wish I didn't care so much but I don't think I could ever do that" and I swear to God to me that is as much Fosse as it is Bennett. They were rivals and close and intertwined and everything else. I always felt Michael was there and kind of watchful and for me, the proudest moment I've had in the entire process was when we screened the movie in Toronto. We'd never had an audience and there was a five minute standing ovation for the movie and afterwards, Donna [ McKechnie ] got up and said, "Not only do I love this film but I know that Michael would have loved this film, too."
WCT: There must have been high and low points for each of you during the shoot—can each of you talk about one of those?
JS: Well, obviously Jason Tam performing the monologue ( of the gay character ) was a great, great high point but there were others that were smaller that were also incredible. Certainly the first time I heard the Michael Bennett tapes was a personal high point. Interviewing McKechnie was a high point.
AD: I would agree: Jason's audition and capturing the reaction of the production crew at the table was like capturing lightning in a bottle—a documentary gold moment. I also really enjoyed covering Baayork Lee, who created the character of Connie in the original and now, 30-plus years later, she's the choreographer for the revival and she's part of the time that's casting the role she played and not everyone's agreeing on who should play the part. I thought that kind of layering and those kinds of moments were really interesting.
WCT: Jim, what kind of show do you think Michael Bennett would be doing today?
JS: That's a great question. Michael was particular—he was very much a creature of this world. His greatest work was "of this world," whether it was Chorus Line or Dreamgirls or even dating back to Follies. First of all, I think he would have done films. Not exclusively by any means but he would have explored it. He directed Chorus Line in a lot of ways like a film—he used montage, lighting, and other film effects. I think he would have also continued to do new shows but I think that the shows would have been kinetic and less like traditional book shows like The Producers. I think Michael would have done things that more of a high octane feel to it.
WCT: Spring Awakening, perhaps?
JS: Yes, something like that, exactly.
WCT: Out of all the Broadway classics [ and ] all the shows to choose from, why document the history and revival of A Chorus Line?
JS: The reason is that this show allowed the film to be elevated beyond just doing a film about a specific show. This allowed us to do a film about people's hopes, dreams, the creative process—because it was created in an organic fashion without a workshop—so, therefore, we were able to take a subject matter and use it as a jumping-off point. Documenting The Producers or Hairspray would have been great, but the subject matter and the significant impact A Chorus Line had and continues to have on Broadway just lent itself to this type of project. Also, going from stage to film is tricky and—with all the dance built into the show and because it moves so quickly—it's a natural.
Every Little Step will run starting Friday, May 15, at Evanston Century 12/CineArts 6, 1715 Maple, and Landmark's Renaissance Place Cinema, 1850 Second, Highland Park.