Every Little Step, which chronicles the arduous audition process for the 2006 revival of A Chorus Line, might very well be the most meta-film concept ever produced. It’s a veritable Matryoshka doll: a documentary about auditions for a musical about dancers auditioning for a musical. A Chorus Line explores the desperation and heartache of trying to be on stage and make a living in theatre from all conceivable angles: struggling with being gay, unattractive, Asian, too old for the limelight. It speaks to the heart of anyone who’s every dreamed of trodding the boards, culled from hours of interviews performed by Michael Bennett and the original cast. Every Little Step deftly intersperses snippets from Bennett’s tapes with the history of the production and the current crop of hopefuls desperate to take these marquee roles. Like boring people who try to figure out if they’re a Ross or Rachel, a Dwight or Pam, or a Carrie or Miranda, all theatre nerds tried to determine if they were a Val, a Sheila, a Connie, or a Zach. The documentary beautifully captures the haunting agony of wanting a part and coming up short, but like the original production of A Chorus Line, the appeal for people outside the theatre community may be limiting. If you’ve dreamed of the spotlight, you’ll be dazzled by the sequins, but if you couldn’t give two shits, a third won’t matter.
It’s impossible to explain the impact of A Chorus Line. There are people who may have never seen the spangled kickline or watched a young gay man rip your heart out with his monologue, but almost everyone knows “One” (singular sensation, every little step she takes) or “What I Did For Love.” Because the entire musical explores the morass of the audition hell — being cattle called for three seconds and denied because you just don’t have “it,” or at least not the it they’re looking for today. It’s compounded here, since these kids are trying to represent real people, real famous people that have been represented through numerous productions across many continents. It’s hard enough trying to make someone believe you can be a certain character that exists in the mind of the director and playwright, it’s doubly hard when you’re trying to do it for the actual person. Baayork Lee, the origin of Connie, is doing the dance for the revival and sits in as a slue of Asian girls try to step into her shoes.
It’s neat rather than awe-inspiring to hear Marvin Hamlisch wax poetic about how the songs came about. One of the more infamous songs from the production involves the siren Val extolling the virtues of her new assets, which was originally called “Tits and Ass.” But the audience wouldn’t laugh during the production because the punch line was there in the program. So they changed the title of the song to “Dance: Ten, Looks: Three,” and bam, instant house smasher. Michael Bennett would have made for a more divatastic presentation but alas, like many Broadway luminaries, he was taken before his time.
The documentary basically devolves into a two-hour crunch of reality television quality character studies, as we follow each of the hopefuls through the auditions, quickly finding favorites and heels. One particular douchebag gets served his walking papers and simpers how they just don’t understand him and one day his name will be everywhere. It’s pretty much a standard operating procedure, and it wears thin. It doesn’t diminish from the sheer tearful joy you feel when you watch the ones you actually liked get cast. There are tears, squeals, hugs. It’s better than Cats. If you’re a musical theatre fan, give it a go when it makes it way to Netflix because you’ll adore it. Otherwise, it’s a singular sensation you can do without.
Brian Prisco lives in a pina down by the mer-port of Burbank, by way of the cheesesteak-laden arteries of Philadelphia. Any and all grumblings can be directed to priscogospel at hotmail dot com.