Just over forty years ago, a dancer and choreographer named Michael Bennett sat down with several dancers for a 1970s-style rap session, and recorded their thoughts on an old-fashioned reel-to-reel tape recorder. After listening to these dancers pour out their hearts, Bennett knew he had something special. These very personal words were set to music and became the Tony-winning musical A Chorus Line. Today, A Chorus Line is performed all over the world and has become a cultural touchstone.
The documentary, Every Little Step follows a group of young dancers as they go through the grueling audition process for the 2006 Broadway revival of A Chorus Line. Though many of these dancers weren’t even born when A Chorus Line first debuted, they can’t help but want to be a part of something so huge. Most of them don’t expect this to make them mega stars; they just want to dance. And besides, they need to work. As one of them explains, “I need a job. I’m out of unemployment.”
The auditioning process takes several months, and soon the pool of dancers is whittled down to a handful of hopefuls. We get to see the dancers mostly through their auditions and the characters they want to play. Several are standouts. The already notable Charlotte d’Amboise seems almost destined to play Cassie the down-on-her luck hoofer who just missed the brass ring of stardom. A Broadway veteran (Cats and Chicago) and the daughter of famed dancer, Jacques d’Amboise, Ms. d’Amboise knows how stardom can be so close yet so far away.
Jessica, auditioning for the part of sexy Val, is a sweet and talented girl from New Jersey who has completely devoted her life to dancing and is now ready for her big break. And when Jason Tam, auditioning as Paul, a young man who recently reveals his homosexuality to his parents, brings the casting panel to tears during his audition, you know it’s a very special moment. Jason is destined to play Paul.
Interspersed throughout Every Little Step, are talking heads with some of the original cast members of A Chorus Line. Donna McKechnie was the original Cassie and won a Tony for her work. And Bayoork Lee, who played Connie in the original production, is back as a choreographer, and she isn’t shy about whipping the dancers into shape. The late Marvin Hamlisch, who composed the music for A Chorus Line, tells us that even after winning three Oscars, he knew he had to be a part of A Chorus Line. He also lets us know how the “Tits and Ass” song got its actual title of “Dance Ten, Looks Three.” Bob Avian, who along with Mr. Bennett, choreographed the original background, is also back but this time as a director.
But most touching is seeing footage of Mr. Bennett who we sadly lost to AIDS in 1987. We get to see TV footage of him dancing, and we also get to see interviews with him after A Chorus Line debuted describing how important it was to bring dancers and their stories to the forefront. I found myself getting a bit choked up when he received his Tony and claimed, “I wanted one moment, and now I have it.”
Soon individual dancers get their moments as they are told they got the part. You find yourself silently cheering when these dancers find out all of their hard work and determination is finally paying off (and you really feel for those who don’t get the role they wanted).
Every Little Step meant a lot to me because A Chorus Line is one of the first Broadway musicals I ever saw, and I knew it would appeal to the theater geek in me. But I don’t think you need to be into the theater to enjoy this movie. We all have the desire to do what we love, be understood and reach for the stars.