EVERY LITTLE STEP (Adam Del Deo, James D. Stern, 2008)

Complicated without achieving complexity, Every Little Step is unpleasant and exhausting to watch. The co-directors of this show-biz documentary, Adam Del Deo and James D. Stern, amassed 450 hours of material pertaining to both Broadway productions of the musical A Chorus Line, more than thirty years apart; footage of auditions beginning in 2006 and the follow-up of call-backs is combined with interviews of those involved with the original production—and, in some cases, in whatever capacities, both productions—as well as with archival materials pertaining to the original show and to director-choreographer Michael Bennett, whose brainchild A Chorus Line was. (Fascinating: Baayork Lee, who created the role of Connie and upon whom the character was based, helping to evaluate the revival auditioners, including those trying out for her former role.) Bennett was 44 when he died from AIDS-related lymphoma in 1987.
     Also deceased (from cancer) by the time of the popular show’s Broadway revival was the musical’s lyricist, Edward Kleban. Except for two passing references to “Ed” he is not mentioned in the film. The composer, Marvin Hamlisch, who is lucky enough to still be alive, perhaps envied Kleban his favorable, even ecstatic reviews; Hamlisch’s contribution was panned—perhaps in reaction to his triple Oscar victory in 1974, as a kind of verbal spanking from theatuh critics. However undeservedly won all those Oscars were, Hamlisch’s score for A Chorus Line is now correctly adjudged as great. Some feel that the omission of Kleban’s name from the film is somehow Hamlisch’s fault (although I don’t see how); one contributor to the IMDb feels that the omission “taints” the entire film. It certainly is odd—as are two other flagrant omissions: the names of James Kirkwood, Jr., and Nicholas Dante, who won the Pulitzer Prize for writing the book of the play! In 1989 and 1991 Kirkwood and Dante, respectively, died of AIDS-related illnesses.
     I am not sure whether the cause of even Bennett’s death is given; AIDS doesn’t seem to be a topic that the filmmakers wish to engage. Pity—especially since the ephemeral nature of artists as a result of the AIDS epidemic and the intrinsically ephemeral nature of theater might have assisted one another in the direction of a powerful unifying theme. As it is, the film draws what unity it can from the aspirations and efforts of the “gypsies” in the play, which the auditioners reflect since the play’s characters reflect the earlier set of auditioners: hence the theme of needing work, both spiritually and financially. Painfully amusing: the second or two of a stupid TV commercial that Donna McKechnie did after originating the role of Cassie. McKechnie proves herself the best of the new interviewees.
     The film shows auditioners dancing and singing—and, in one passage, emoting: Jason Tam’s audition for the role of Paul. The passage becomes striking when, after having left the panel in indulgent tears, Tam looks quite ordinary as himself, all his theatrical emotions turned off. Thus he leaves. This deflationary tack is strengthened by the insertion of a streaked black-and-white clip of the original Paul in performance: Sammy Williams, who won a Tony for this role and then, failing to find work in the entertainment field, became a florist. Other good passages, their idea lifted from Milos Forman’s Audition (1964) and Taking Off (1971), film a string of auditioners singing their sequential bit of the same song.
     There is far too little, however, to commend this tedious film. One wonders how much more effective Every Little Step might be had it been simpler, sparer and thematically charged.

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