Friday, May 22, 2009

The story behind "A Chorus Line"

THIS WEEK'S ART-HOUSE PICK

You might have a difficult time finding a more enjoyable movie this weekend than "Every Little Step,'' a documentary about the casting of the 2006 Broadway revival of "A Chorus Line."

Directors James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo take us through the casting process and give us a concise but telling history of the original production, the brainchild of the brilliant choreographer Michael Bennett, who died in 1987.

Inevitably, auditions for "A Chorus Line" mirror the musical itself, and, like the musical, the movie turns into a tribute to dancers who pin their hopes on landing a job on Broadway, a task -- we're reminded -- that's enormously difficult. Not only is talent essential, but dancers need an unnatural capacity to withstand criticism and rejection. In short, no one would pursue this kind of life without being driven by a mixture of ambition and desire that's apparent at nearly every turn. You think dancing on Broadway doesn't require grit? Think again. Some 3,000 dancers showed up on the first day of auditions. At the end, 19 were chosen.

The filmmakers follow the months of preparation that go into the show, focusing mostly on how each role is cast. Auditon footage is supplemented by interviews. We meet Donna McKechnie, who originated the role of Cassie on Broadway. We hear from Marvin Hamlisch, who wrote the music for the show. We also meet Bob Avian, who worked with Bennett on the original production and who's directing the revival. Baayork Lee, who played the role of Connie in the original and who's helping choreograph the revival, sounds what might be taken as the movie's them. Lee encourages the young dancers to "eat nails," an exhortation to give everything to every moment.

"A Chorus Line" began when Bennett gathered a group of dancers and asked them to talk about their lives. The filmmakers have found interviews with Bennett that give the documentary poignancy. A spectacular audition by a dancer named Jason Tam, who lands the role of Paul, adds emotional heft.

By now, "A Chorus Line" is familiar to most theater and moviegoers, but "Every Little Step" manages a neat trick: It renews interest in the show while giving us a new appreciation for the dedication it takes to dance on Broadway. Your heart breaks for those who don't make it and exults for those who do.

1 comment:

Nickname unavailable said...

Bob: Ellen and I saw this fabulous film yesterday and LOVED it !! We are so glad that you reviewed it so favorably. Hopefully, the distributor will give it a push so that more people will go and see, and love, this film as well. Hope all is well. Larry