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MOVIE REVIEW

'Every Little Step'

The joys, jitters and rejection of 'A Chorus Line' come to life in this documentary look at casting the 2006 Broadway revival.

April 17, 2009|KENNETH TURAN | FILM CRITIC

"Every Little Step" doesn't do anything unexpected, and it doesn't have to. A documentary that combines the history of "A Chorus Line" with a behind-the-scenes look at how the 2006 Broadway revival was cast, it's a can't-miss effort that knows how to please.

It can't miss because of the power and appeal of the original "A Chorus Line," which opened in New York in 1975 and didn't close until it had run for 6,137 performances -- still the record for an American musical on Broadway -- collecting nine Tonys and the Pulitzer Prize in the process.

The show succeeded so well because of the way it mirrors Broadway reality, introducing us to the behind-the-scenes world of chorus kids who tell us their life stories as they audition for parts they are desperate to have. Adding a contemporary audition process to that, to in effect have a real-life version of the show that is itself about the real thing, is too potent to resist.

For fans of the original, "Every Little Step's" historical material will be of considerable interest. There are interviews with Michael Bennett, the show's gifted director, who died in 1987; clips of star Donna McKechnie that reveal exactly why her dancing was legendary; even excerpts from the famous 1974 tapes of dancers baring their souls that were the basis of the show.

If this part of the film has a weakness, it's that it hews too closely to the myth that after those tapes were made, the show more or less wrote itself, a bit of flummery that infuriated the actual writers, Nicholas Dante and James Kirkwood, as well as lyricist Ed Kleban. But because all three men are dead and so unavailable to be interviewed, the film acts as if they never existed, telling the story of the show's creation without mentioning their names.

As directed by James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo, "Every Little Step" is on firmer ground with the casting process for the 2006 revival. We get to see director Bob Avian, a longtime Bennett associate, and choreographer Baayork Lee, an original cast member, as they go about making their choices. And we get to see the dancers as they work to survive the arduous auditions.

Being in "Chorus Line" turns out to be an exhausting three-step process, starting with an open call that drew 3,000 hopefuls, followed by a series of callbacks four months later and then final callbacks months after that. "It's not for the weak of heart," someone says.

The heart of "Every Little Step" is the anguish these dancers go through as they try so hard for so few roles. Sometimes the best choice is obvious to all concerned, sometimes the selections seem arbitrary, but when people who want this badly, and who worked hard for it, get turned down, it couldn't be sadder. Which was the whole point of "A Chorus Line" in the first place.

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kenneth.turan@latimes.com

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'Every Little Step'

MPAA rating: PG-13 for some strong language including sexual references

Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes

Playing: In limited release

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