Revival Doc is Life-Affirming Look at Performance. 

A Chorus Line gets the documentary treatment.

Every Little Step, Adam Del Deo and James Stern's absorbing documentary about the 2006 revival of the Broadway hit A Chorus Line — in other words, a movie about the casting of a musical that's about actors auditioning for a musical — is a rabbit hole well worth tumbling down. Prior knowledge of the musical is unnecessary. I've never seen A Chorus Line, but the reverence with which performers and creators speak of it and the excitement generated by the dancers in several scenes are genuine and palpable even in truncated form.

The film begins with snatches of a 1974 reel-to-reel tape recording that captures the show's co-creator/choreographer Michael Bennett coaxing a group of dancers to speak about their life stories. "I think we're all pretty interesting," he says, expressing a touching populist belief about performers and creators that may help explain the show's enormous financial and critical success. But both the musical and the movie know that some performers are more interesting than others, and that's the chief conflict in both the original musical and Del Deo and Stern's work, which could be subtitled "Anatomy of a Tryout."

Mercifully, the audition process is not a geek show offering audiences the chance to jeer at pigeon-footed rubes; the hopefuls are either hardworking, talented individuals seeking their big break or established dancers whose identification with the play verges on the spiritual. For these actors, desperation, ambition, self-doubt, and self-delusion are part of the vital mix that keeps them on their toes and propels them into the air.

If Every Little Step had only focused on these potential cast members, that alone would have been worth seeing. The craft of stage acting is fascinating enough for several features: How do these people endure the endless waiting and rehearsals without losing the spontaneity and freshness with which they earned their call-backs? But the film also explores the mystery of talent selection. As the auditions continue, revival director Bob Avian, revival choreographer Baayork Lee, and others invoke gut feelings, memories, and the almost preconscious shock of "first impressions" as much as they use their technical training to find the right men and women. In one instance, Lee — an original Broadway cast member — questions a Japanese actor seeking to play "her" role because she moved to America when she was 8 and, unlike Lee, never had to fight for a seat on the F train. The aspirants seem to know that they're also competing against the collective memory of the first cast, which is reinforced when several auditions and songs are intercut with grainy black-and-white footage of the show's original stars.

Unlike the shrill, glib goon squads who preside over American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance?, the casting directors of Every Little Step perform their difficult jobs as skillfully as they can. Notwithstanding the moment early in the film when a casting assistant thins the herd of leotarded flesh by announcing, "You've been cut. Can you please ... get out," the dominant tone of the film is life-affirming rather than condescending.



Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

    • Fifty Shades Freed

      Feature length commercial for luxury goods or chilling glimpse into the post-human future?
    • Call Me By Your Name

      Lucious amore among the ruins
    • The Post

      Spielberg’s journalism epic is the film our troubled country needs


Tiger Blue

Tigers 68, Tulane 63

Film/TV/Etc. Blog

Black Panther

Hungry Memphis

Arcade to expand

Politics Beat Blog

Rep. Johnnie Turner Takes Her Leave

Intermission Impossible

"Souvenir" is a keeper: Florence Foster Jenkins sings at Theatre Memphis

News Blog

New Pickup Spot for Uber, Lyft at Airport

We Saw You

Meat Fest, Wine for Wishes, Works of Heart

News Blog

AG Wants Execution Dates Set for Death Row Inmates

Film/TV/Etc. Blog

The Olympic Ideal Meets Reality In PyeongChang


More by Addison Engelking

Readers also liked…

© 1996-2018

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation