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Casting 'A Chorus Line,' Step By Heartwarming Step
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Casting 'A Chorus Line,' Step By Heartwarming Step

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Casting 'A Chorus Line,' Step By Heartwarming Step

Casting 'A Chorus Line,' Step By Heartwarming Step
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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/103089730/103228696" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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W Charlotte D'Amboise i

Every Move You Make: Charlotte D'Amboise played Cassie, the onetime featured dancer hoping to score a chorus role, in the 2006 revival of A Chorus Line. Paul Kolnik/Sony Pictures Classics hide caption

toggle caption Paul Kolnik/Sony Pictures Classics
W Charlotte D'Amboise

Every Move You Make: Charlotte D'Amboise played Cassie, the onetime featured dancer hoping to score a chorus role, in the 2006 revival of A Chorus Line.

Paul Kolnik/Sony Pictures Classics

Every Little Step

  • Directors: Adam Del Deo,                   James D. Stern
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Running Time: 96 minutes

Rated PG-13 for some strong language, including sexual references.

(Recommended)

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Casting

 

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I Can Do That

 

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Changing The Ending

 

Broadway groupies get a chance to trip down a theatrical rabbit hole in Every Little Step — a movie about auditioning for a musical ... that itself is about auditioning for a musical.

Documentarians Adam Del Deo and James D. Stern shot some 500 hours of footage at both cattle calls and callbacks for the 2006 Broadway revival of A Chorus Line, then combined glimpses of those "God, I hope I get it" tryouts with interviews and snippets of archival footage of the singular sensation that started it all.

The result? A briskly self-aware, thoroughly stage-struck portrait of a theatrical portrait.

A Chorus Line, remember, began as a workshop in which choreographer Michael Bennett recorded 22 Broadway dancers talking about their lives as dancers.

Audiotapes of those discussions were then shaped by Bennett — along with librettists James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, lyricist Ed Kleban and composer Marvin Hamlisch — into a paean to the usually unsung kids in the Broadway chorus. ("Gypsies," as they're known in the trade.)

A Chorus Line opened on Broadway in 1975, and went on to set a record for the longest-running musical in Broadway history — a title it lost only in 1997, when Cats eclipsed its run.

Still the longest-running American musical ever to play Broadway, the show that launched a thousand dance schools has since launched nearly that many amateur productions. And 16 years after concluding its 15-year original run, A Chorus Line returned to the Rialto in the revival that's the subject of this movie.

The filmmakers are doing more or less what Bennett said he'd do if he'd agreed to direct the movie version — the one Richard Attenborough ended up botching. Which is to say they treat the film itself as an audition, and for the most part, the approach works.

Marvin Hamlisch, Michael Bennett i

Composer Marvin Hamlisch (center) and choreographer Michael Bennett confer amid the original cast of A Chorus Line. Martha Swope/Sony Pictures Classics hide caption

toggle caption Martha Swope/Sony Pictures Classics
Marvin Hamlisch, Michael Bennett

Composer Marvin Hamlisch (center) and choreographer Michael Bennett confer amid the original cast of A Chorus Line.

Martha Swope/Sony Pictures Classics

On NPR's 'Monkey See' Blog

The new material, gathered at the revival's tryouts, is occasionally riveting — Jason Tam, say, nailing his character's monologue so completely that he leaves the whole casting table in tears.

And watching an actress who killed with her first audition, but who can't get the character to resurface during callbacks, is pretty haunting.

So is archival footage, shot from the Broadway balcony, of original cast member Donna McKechnie doing things no one else has ever managed to match in "The Music and the Mirror" — a bravura solo for A Chorus Line's heroine, Cassie, that comes late in the show. Watch one of her head-snaps roll down her torso to tug at her hips, and you grasp what it means to have a choreographer build a dance on the capabilities and limits of a particular body.

But the assembling of audition sequences — though artfully managed by the filmmakers — sometimes also suggests, in its inevitable randomness, just how remarkable a feat of dramaturgy A Chorus Line ended up being.

The filmmakers concentrate on just a few major roles and follow just the most likely candidates for them. And still they end up with a faintly scattered narrative and an unwieldy cast of anxious semi-look-alikes.

Once in a while, there's lots at stake, as when Baayork Lee — a participant in Bennett's original taping session, a veteran of the original cast and, on screen, the re-creator of every little step in Bennett's choreography for the revival — lobbies hard for the actress she prefers to see playing herself.

But just as often — while it's hard not to love what the dancers do for love — the show can't help haunting the film, even as the film tries its best to be the show. (Recommended)

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