Every Little Step

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


 

            “Every Little Step” builds beautifully in layers and then soars as a whole. When Michael Bennett held auditions for the original “A Chorus Line” in 1974, he decided to get to know the dancers and singers through individual conversations that he preserved on a two reel tape machine. When work began on the revival in 2006, James D. Stern and Adam del Deo intercut clips from these tapes with those of the new auditions. The result is a wonderfully unfamiliar look inside the audition process for a Broadway show.

            When the open call audition went out for the revival of “A Chorus Line” in 2006, 3000 dancers showed up to stand in line in the rain. The tape reels spun while the filmmakers explored the talents, insecurities, needs, and dreams that became the structure for the new show. Bennett’s original gift to laymen is an unprecedented look inside the audition process for the Broadway show that turned into his masterpiece. This documentary is all about process, something we in the audience rarely see. We applaud a finished product without knowing what went into it. In every way, seeing the process enhances our appreciation of the finished show. One dancer says, “It’s hard work; it takes your soul.” Now we know.


            Why is it so moving? Partly because we care about the dancers as they reveal themselves; we envy their passion and ache when they don’t make it. Perhaps the primary reason is that some of the people who worked with Michael Bennett in 1974 worked again on the revival. With the stage revival more than three decades after the original and now this movie, these former colleagues have paid personal tribute to the legendary choreographer who died in 1978. They have opened a seam in the Broadway process.


            Bob Avian choreographed the original with Bennett; Marvin Hamlisch is on stage to work with his original score; and Baayork Lee, dancer (the original Connie in ’75), choreographer, and former teacher of Michael Bennett is present in all those roles. When she starts a countdown in the chaos that surrounds her, a dance snaps to perfect life.

 

            Ms. Lee is a bundle of electrical wires that come together in perfect focus on the dancers she is trying to help at the moment. It isn’t surprising that a well of good will flows from her, from Mr. Avian and Mr. Hamlisch. They are all winners, all pros, and they know the agonies of audition. They know the delicacies just beneath the surface of the dancers and singers and they teach only with encouragement.

 

            When Jason Tam nails his audition as Paul, he steps right into the hearts of the judges who knew Michael Bennett so well and have lived with the play for so long. Some of their colleagues are gone – Bennett and Joe Papp among them – but their shadows stand marvelously over this uplifting movie not in sadness but in creative triumph.
 

 


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