Saturday, May 2, 2009

Movie Review: "Every Little Step"

Almost every group has a movie, show, or song that serves to define it. For actors and dancers in the theatre, no other song encapsulates the struggle of getting defying the odds and getting a job than A Chorus Line's "I Hope I Get It," the show's opening song that shows dozens of hopefuls vying not for stardom but for a part dancing in the chorus. Quite fittingly, "Every Little Step," a documentary that gives audiences an unprecedented look at the arduous audition process for a Broadway show, opens with "I Hope I Get It." While the documentary is not perfect (what in this life is?), it is a wonderful and eye-opening look at what happens long before the curtain goes up opening night on Broadway. Furthermore, it provides an equally heart-breaking and exhilarating alternative to faux-audition shows (I'm looking at you Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for the Next Elle Woods and You're The One That I Want).

Every Little Step focuses mainly on the audition process of the recent revival of A Chorus Line. During the two-hour documentary, we see the huge crowds lined up in New York to audition for the iconic roles of Cassie, Paul, Shelia, and others. From over 3,000 auditionees, the crowd is whittled down, and the film follows several of the actors, ranging from those who are established (Charlotte D'Amboise) to those trying to break into the business (Jessica Lee Goldyn), as they prepare for callbacks and battle nerves. Interspersed with the vignettes of the auditionees are interviews with Bob Avian (the revival's director), Donna McKechnie (the original Cassie and Michael's Bennett's friend and muse), and Baayork Lee (the original Connie and who restaged Bennett's choreography for the revival) as well as some footage from the original production and the audio footage from Bennett's recordings that helped launch A Chorus Line.

The documentary is surprisingly free of the gossip, cattiness, and snark that serves as the hallmark of much of reality television. Instead, the actors and the revival's creative team are refreshingly professional. While Avian and his team will often comment that a particular actor is not right for a role, this criticism lacks the needless anger or sarcasm of Simon Cowell. The actors are, for the most part, more focused on their own performing than undermining each other and most understand the capriciousness of show business. Even as Nikki Snelson watches competitor Jessica Lee Goldyn (who eventually wins the part) audition for "Val," her expression is simultaneously wistful and hopeful.

As I mentioned earlier, this documentary is not perfect. Devotees of A Chorus Line will not learn anything new about the show, and the documentary is very (and perhaps overly) reverent of Bennett's legacy and memory. No where does anyone address the many issues that arose regarding mining actors' lives and personal heartache for the purposes of creating a show. Furthermore, given the fact that the documentary wants to look at the different people auditioning for the show, it skips around and does not grant equal time to the different people.

However, these are small issues and, given the film's many merits, can be easily overlooked. Ultimately, this film is a case of art imitating life imitating art. Watching these actors audition and deal with the highs and lows of working in theatre is much more real than any reality show could ever hope to be.