Movie review by Greg Carlson
“Every Little Step,” a documentary chronicling the grueling audition process for the 2006 revival of “A Chorus Line,” achieves some of its lofty goals while leaving just as many stories of the venerable musical frustratingly unexplored. Directors Adam Del Deo and James D. Stern are clearly more interested in the macrocosmic, shaping their movie around the ineffable desire that sees so many hopefuls compete for so few jobs. The movie conveys the strange unity that binds together the affectionately-monikered “gypsies” who bleed, perspire, and weep as they face nearly insurmountable odds to find work in their chosen profession. For anyone interested in the workings of Broadway theatre, “Every Little Step” should not be missed.
“Every Little Step” squeezes in a great deal of drama during its 96-minute running time, including previously unheard material from the original 1974 audiotape sessions that evolved into the workshops that would eventually bring “A Chorus Line” to a whopping run of 6137 performances. Alternating between brief sketches of the show’s origins (though mostly ignoring some key contributors like Ed Kleban and James Kirkwood) and the rounds of monologues and dance combinations at the revival auditions, the documentary engages the same “And Then There Were None” strategy put to good use in Jeffrey Blitz’s “Spellbound.”
Given the popularity of talent shows like “American Idol,” the elimination format of “Every Little Step” is a built-in intrigue generator that keeps most viewers engaged as the casting process moves ever closer to the final decisions. “A Chorus Line,” with its inward-directed gaze, is the perfect meta-musical test case for a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the parameters of its creation. At various times, the movie begins to reflect and refract images like a hall of mirrors (such as the scenes in which Baayork Lee, the original Connie Wong, helps to cast an actor playing an actor in a part based largely on Lee’s own life).
“Every Little Step” contains several gripping scenes, most notably a section of Jason Tam’s stunning audition for the role of Paul. Tam’s heartfelt line readings reduce the grizzled decision makers to tears, and the sequence leaves one yearning for more detail about the actor. Unfortunately, this is a common deficiency of “Every Little Step,” as the moviemakers never fully connect with any of the people trying out for roles. Instead, the interviews contain a multitude of show business chestnuts that ironically shield the performers from revealing anything specific about their own journeys to the stage.
Viewers of “Every Little Step” will not see any content addressing the controversies aroused by choreographer/director Michael Bennett during and after the original production of “A Chorus Line.” Bennett is deified by every talking head in the movie, particularly Donna McKechnie, whose closeness – and onetime marriage to Bennett – affords her a special authority. Surely the documentary would have been more involving had it opened up to a comprehensive accounting of the history of “A Chorus Line,” but given the fact that Bennett estate executor John Breglio is one of the film’s executive producers, “Every Little Step” predictably remains a respectful tribute.
This review was also published in the High Plains Reader the week of 6/22/09.