One doesn't have to be a Broadway buff to appreciate Every Little Step, a sparkling documentary that follows the 2006 revival of the venerable hit musical, A Chorus Line. Beautifully constructed and lovingly told, the movie captures the passion and drive of the so-called gypsy dancers who chase after their collective dream on the Great White Way.
Directors James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo make the most of unprecedented access to the Chorus Line auditions, but they also excel at chronicling the origins of the musical itself. Interweaving the modern-day footage with archival material, the film tells several tales -- all of them affecting. In the winter of 1974, Broadway choreographer-director Michael Bennett led a workshop in which a group of hoofers, their inhibitions loosened by wine, shared personal stories about what inspired their craft. Bennett recorded the lengthy conversations, transcribed them and culled the real-life accounts into a musical in which 17 dancers audition for a fictitious chorus line.
The result was a blockbuster that played Broadway for 15 years. With a book by James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante, lyrics by Edward Kleban and music by Marvin Hamlisch, A Chorus Line went on to earn nine Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for drama.
Every Little Step executes the neat trick of conveying why A Chorus Line made such a powerful connection with audiences. As it literally emerged from the secret pains and joys of dancers, A Chorus Line resonates with heartfelt honesty. It is an attribute not lost on the 3,000 hopefuls who auditioned for the '06 revival. The documentary focuses on about a dozen aspirants, all vying for the 19 spots. The film doesn't delve much into their respective backstories, but we get enough to sustain viewers' emotional investment.
The film effectively underscores the grueling experience of auditioning -- the raw nerves, the pressure to perform and the periodic glimmers of brilliance. A young actor, Jason Tan, does a monologue of "Paul," a Chorus Line character who reveals how his parents discovered his homosexuality. Tan's astonishing performance reduces the casting judges to tears. In another scene, singer Rachelle Rak is dumbfounded when director Bob Avian urges her to repeat the performance she gave at an earlier callback. Rak has no idea what she might have done eight months earlier.
Every Little Step also builds on a wonderfully dizzying reflexivity. A Chorus Line the musical stemmed from the confessions of real-life gypsies. A few of those actual dancers, principally Donna McKechnie and Baayork Lee, appeared in the original Broadway production and are interviewed in the documentary; Lee, in fact, choreographed the 2006 revival and was involved casting the character based on her. The dancers trying out for the '06 production share traits with the characters for which they are auditioning. And, of course, we are watching people audition for a show that takes place in an audition.
It's an exuberant, giddy and, most important, riveting confection of a film.
The picture, presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, is solid, but unremarkable. Lines are a little soft and some scenes have very slight grain, but none are to the point of distraction.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital is excellent, with strong, clean audio and no problems with distortion or dropout. Still, use of immersive sound is modest. Optional subtitles are in English, English for the hearing-impaired and French.
A commentary with directors James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo, and composer Marvin Hamlisch is breezy and pleasant, but a bit short on depth and long on the "I love this scene" side.
More interesting are seven deleted scenes, with an aggregate length just past 37 minutes, that boast more material from the original workshop recordings and will be great fun for Chorus Line devotees. It also includes early archival footage of Michael Bennett and some insights from former New York Times theater critic (and current op-ed writer) Frank Rich. Viewers can play all or check each deleted scene separately.
Donna McKechnie: in conversation (15:43) is just that, as the dancer-actress reflects on her experiences on Broadway and with her friend, Michael Bennett. In the seven-minute, 41-second interview with John Breglio, Bob Avian and Baayork Lee (7:41), we hear from, respectively, the revival's producer, director and choreographer. They discuss the original production as well as the 2006 revival.
Also included on the DVD is a theatrical trailer and previews of An Education, Coco Before Chanel, It Might Get Loud, Whatever Works, 12 and much more.
Put simply, Every Little Step is a blast. Immersing itself in the enduring mythology of Broadway and, specifically, A Chorus Line, the documentary pulsates with the energy and excitement of artistic creation and interpretation. Packaged with some nifty bonus material, this is one documentary not to be missed.