Movie Review - 'Every Little Step': Casting 'A Chorus Line,' Step By Heartwarming Step A jazzy new documentary recalls Michael Bennett's tribute to Broadway's unsung gypsies; Bob Mondello says it's a moving, if sometimes jumbled, collection of riches from past and present. (Recommended)
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Casting 'A Chorus Line,' Step By Heartwarming Step

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Casting 'A Chorus Line,' Step By Heartwarming Step

Review

Movies

Casting 'A Chorus Line,' Step By Heartwarming Step

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

There's a new documentary out today. It's called "Every Little Step." Bob Mondello says it's a film about auditioning for a musical about auditioning for a musical.

BOB MONDELLO: "Every Little Step" begins with something very few people have ever heard: a tape recording made on a snowy Manhattan night in December of 1974. Choreographer Michael Bennett had gathered 22 dancers for what turned out to be a 12-hour talk-a-thon.

Mr. MICHAEL BENNETT (Choreographer, "A Chorus Line"): I really want to talk about us now. I don't know whether there - anything will come of this, or whether there is anything. I think we're all pretty interesting, and all of you are pretty interesting, and I think that maybe there's a show in there somewhere, which would be called "A Chorus Line."

MONDELLO: He was right, there was.

(Soundbite of music)

MONDELLO: The anecdotes the dancers put on tape that night were shaped by Bennett and his collaborators into a musical about the usually unsung kids in the Broadway chorus, gypsies as they're known in the theater.

"A Chorus Line" opened in 1975 and didn't bring down its final curtain until 15 years later, then a record run, and the show that launched 1,000 dance schools has since launched nearly that many amateur productions.

(Soundbite of musical, "A Chorus Line")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) I'm going to do the ballet combination one more time. Boys and girls, do it together. Don't pee yourselves. Mark. One, two, three, four, five, six.

MONDELLO: Flash forward to auditions for a 2006 Broadway revival, where documentary filmmakers shot some 500 hours of footage at cattle-call auditions and callbacks. Then they combined glimpses of those God-I-hope-I-get-it tryouts with interviews with the folks trying to re-create what everyone agrees was a singular sensation.

Just how big their task is, you'll gather as director and original chorus-line collaborator Bob Avian narrates grainy black-and-white footage, shot from the balcony some 30 years ago, of a moment no dancer has ever quite managed to match.

(Soundbite of film, "Every Little Step")

Mr. BOB AVIAN (Choreographer, "A Chorus Line"): (As Himself) Donna McKechnie was such an organic dancer when it came to the music. She just could hear it all and physicalize it all.

MONDELLO: 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 of a particular body.

(Soundbite of music)

MONDELLO: Now by plunging into real auditions, the film team is doing what Michael Bennett said he'd do if he were making a movie of "A Chorus Line" -treating the film itself as an audition. And at times that really works, say when an actor so nails a monologue that he leaves the whole casting table in tears, or when an actress kills with her initial audition, only to be told during callbacks that the spark's gone.

(Soundbite of film, "Every Little Step")

Unidentified Woman #1 (Actor): (As Herself) He said, I want you to do what you did last summer. I didn't know what I did last summer. I had broken up with my boyfriend. I had all of this stuff last summer. It was eight months ago. I don't know what I did last summer.

Unidentified Man #2: (As Himself) All right, can we do it again?

Unidentified Woman #1: (As Herself) Well yeah, absolutely.

Unidentified Man #2: (As Himself) Okay. Do you need a couple minutes?

Unidentified Woman #1: (As Herself) Yeah, let me take a second. Let me just…

MONDELLO: Captivating stuff, but even the very artful assembling of new audition sequences serves to remind you just how remarkable the dramaturgy was in "A Chorus Line."

Filmmakers Adam Del Deo and James D. Stern concentrate on just a few major roles and follow just the most likely candidates for them, and still end up with a faintly scattered narrative and an unwieldy cast.

In other words, the Broadway show can't help haunting the film as the film tries to be the show, which doesn't make it any less a treasure trove of new stories for those who love what these folks do for love. Talent is on elegant display in every little step of "Every Little Step."

(Soundbite of song, "What I Did For Love")

Unidentified Woman #2 (Singer): (Singing) Kiss today goodbye…

MONDELLO: I'm Bob Mondello

(Soundbite of song, "What I Did For Love")

Unidentified Woman #2: (Singing) …and point me toward tomorrow. We did what we had to do. Won't forget, can't regret what I did for love.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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