You don't have to be a little girl or a gay man for A Chorus Line to be the central inspiration of your life, although it certainly helps.
This heartbreaking, inspirational, and glorious Pulitzer Prize-winning musical started off as late-night workshops before premiering off-Broadway at the Public Theater. Months later it transferred to Broadway, where it ran from 1975 to 1990 for a groundbreaking 6,137 performances.
Universal eventually paid $5.5 million for the film rights. The result was a mediocre ode to the artistic impulse starring Michael Douglas, but what did you expect when your director was Sir Richard Attenborough, the man who gave us the flatfooted Gandhi?
Anyway, directors/producers James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo have now decided to use the recent 2006 revival of A Chorus Line to unearth the magic of the original enterprise and its genius creator, Michael Bennett, while depicting the craziness of casting the new production.
Listening to reel-to-reel tapes of those early workshops and viewing some low-rent video footage of the creators, it's truly astonishing to see how a classic entertainment blossomed from an unlikely idea. Bennett just had twenty or so dancers sit around in a circle and talk about their lives. The structure, the music, and the choreography followed.
Intercut with the past are current interviews with Donna McKechnie and Marvin Hamlisch, plus the grueling auditions for the recent production, which closed in 2008. The result is that Every Little Step is a fast-paced documentary that captures the angst, joys, and disappointments of the young hopefuls as they try out for a show that mirrors their pursuits.
The high point of the film is Jason Tam's embodying of the character Paul, a young gay man who relates the painful moment when his parents saw him dancing in drag and still embraced him as their son. Tears were running everywhere, on screen and off.
Otherwise, with a few exceptions -- such as original cast member Baayork Lee -- there are just too many folks jumping about here for anyone to make a great singular impression. The genius here lies in the musical content, not the documentary's structure or its psychological analysis. This is no Dancemaker.
Where Every Little Step does succeed grandly is in having composer Hamlisch's tunes circling in your head days later. I've just been singing "At the Ballet" while toasting Eggo Nutri-Grain waffles. Now that's the power of art. - Brandon Judell
Every Little Step is a highlight of the forthcoming New Directors/New Films Festival that runs from March 25 to April 5, 2009.
Mr. Judell has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, the New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton). He is also a member of the performance/writing group FlashPoint.