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  • Every Little StepIs Every Little Step the best theatrical documentary in film history? It's hard to think of another that captures the excitement, the tension, and, well, the drama of Broadway quite the way Adam Del Dio and James D. Stern's film (released today) does. If you're a fan of musicals, that will undoubtedly help; an intimate familiarity with and affection for A Chorus Line will aid even more. But like the super-smash brainchild of Michael Bennett that this movie examines every which way over the course 30-plus years, you don't need any special information to take away plenty of entertainment and some crucial lessons about art and life itself.

    Just as the story of A Chorus Line began with those late-night taping sessions on January 26, 1974, when Michael Bennett elicited from some assembled dancers the life stories that would later form the basis of his musical, so too does Every Little Step. The tapes, as well as television interviews with Bennett and composer Marvin Hamlisch, form the backbone of the movie, providing the real-world context for both the creation of the original production (which opened at The Public Theater in 1975, moved to Broadway soon after, and closed 15 years later) and the recent Broadway revival (which opened at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre and ran nearly two years).

    Hearing them, often juxtaposed with the lines of dialogue that Chorus Line bookwriters James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante created from them, is a stirring experience, both of what the dancer's life was (is?) like and of the close relationship between reality in the theater and outside it. And while it's wonderful to see black-and-white footage of the original production, or TV clips of a young Michael Bennett in his own performing heyday (he and original star Donna McKechnie are briefly seen in a clip from Hullabulloo, "bringing The Jerk to new heights"), it's onstage, backstage, and in the rehearsal rooms that Every Little Step stakes its claim to originality.

    Much of the film focuses on the modern-day performers who, like their fictional counterparts, are just trying to get cast in their next show. That that show happens to be the revival of A Chorus Line (which Avian, the original co-choreographer, directed, and original featured performer Baayork Lee choreographed) is strangely incidental: These actor/singer/dancers could be putting themselves on anyone's line, striving to meet the requirements established 30 years earlier (before many of them were even born) and maintain the spark of individuality that will get them noticed among the thousands of other hopefuls.

    There's not the time (or, given the number of blurred faces and conspicuously absent faces, the legal authority) to follow everyone who auditioned, so the most screen time is given to several key representatives: established pro Charlotte d'Amboise, daughter of esteemed dancer Jacques d'Amboise, and Natascia Diaz, competing against each other for comeback kid Cassie; Jessica Lee Goldyn (who played Mike in a high-school mounting of the show, and no, that's not a typo) and Nicole Snelson, both up for the flat-and-sassy Val who fills her dance card after finding one that read "Dance: Ten, Looks: Three"; Deirdre Goodwin and Rachelle Rak, both vying for the role of the hardened ballet dancer Sheila; and Chryssie Whitehead, going after Kristine, the dancer who can't "Sing!" You also get brief but telling glimpses of Mara Davi, singing a gloriously unforced "At the Ballet"; Tyce Diorio, a talented but arrogant performer who will go to any lengths to get noticed as "I Can Do That" ham Mike; Alisan Porter, trying to live up to the not-too-pretty role of Bebe her mother once played; Yuka Takara, who's not a native English speaker but nonetheless attracts Lee's attention as a potential Connie; and Jason Tam (whose Paul monologue literally moves the creative team to tears).

    Although these are far from all the stories that could have been told about the process (we see the initial auditions, the first callback, the final callback on the stage of the Broadhurst Theatre, and glimpses of opening night, but nothing from rehearsals, tryouts, or previews), they're nonetheless surprisingly exciting and suspense-filled. Even if you know who was eventually cast, the details are sobering. Seeing how someone can dazzle at their first appearance but fizzle when called on to repeat that magic later is one of the tragic realities of the theatre. Watching casting director Jay Binder anguish over his various choices, and deliver both the good and the bad news to the appropriate parties is the side of the business many non-actors wonder about but usually never get to see. And if you attended the revival and were not exactly thrilled with every choice Binder and company made, you might discover in Every Little Step why those choices were made—a number of the people I was hardly impressed with at all come across as legitimately brilliant onscreen.

    Many devotees of the original production will likely watch Every Little Step hoping for some fresh insights into the creation of the now-legendary original production; they're not going to find anything here they won't in books like The Longest Line and A Chorus Line and the Musicals of Michael Bennett. And Del Dio and Stern could have either done a bit more research or clarified things a bit better onscreen: While much is made of Bennett and Hamlisch, lyricist Edward Kleban receives only a couple of off-hand mentions, and only of his first name—Hamlisch's statements might lead the casual viewer to believe he wrote more than just the music.

    But that's the kind of nitpicking only theatre diehards will really care about. From a broader perspective, Every Little Step is a colorful, tuneful, and often dazzling look at the theatre, and the people who make it so fresh, funny, and frustrating.

    Photos (from top): Michael Bennett (center left) and cast members of the original 1975 production of A Chorus Line; director Bob Avian, casting director Jay Binder, and choreographer Baayork Lee, working on casting the 2006 revival; Lee (center) working with Charlotte d'Amboise, who's auditioning for the central role of Cassie; Yuka Takara (center) delivering one of Connie's bigger moments; Jason Tam, giving his all to Paul.

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