A Chorus Line ran for 6,137 performances on Broadway, won six Tony Awards, and has been produced countless times by high schools and colleges alike. There’s a certain magic to the show, almost a naïveté, that keeps audiences coming back over the years, no matter how dated it becomes. Who can forget Zach’s gruff and disembodied bark, or the glittering gold finale? And how many dancers have identified with Cassie’s trembling hands as she pleads for a spot in the chorus?
What audiences might not realize is that the 17 dancers who place themselves “on the line” are not as far from reality as they may seem, from Val’s plastic surgery to Paul’s searing monologue. Director/choreographer Michael Bennett took all these stories from interviews he recorded with actual dancers, which is at the heart of the glorious 2008 film, Every Little Step. This documentary, both chronicle of the creation of the musical’s creation and a celebration of the 2006 revival tour, showcases archival footage and reminds viewers just why A Chorus Line has been called the best musical ever.
The film begins with an audio clip of Bennett talking about his idea to make a musical from the unique stories of his dancers. Little did he know how many dancers would grow to identify themselves with each of the characters. For Every Little Step, film crews were allowed to enter dance studios—usually sacred, private places free from outside eyes—and tape the New York City open call auditions. A quick camera shot of the line of auditioners snaking down the sidewalk shows just how much name power A Chorus Line now carries.
Dancers breathlessly describe how the musical is their life, how clearly it captures the heartbreak and triumph they experience in the arts world. One dancer in particular, Jessica, says that she’s put all her stock in landing this job. “You can’t have something to fall back on,” she says, “because if you do, then you’ll fall back.”
Her words are reminiscent of veteran dancer Cassie’s plight in the musical. Though it is interesting to see how the directors go about casting the part of Cassie, even better is to hear the interview footage with Donna McKechnie, who played the original part. It is this layering, this back-and-forth between past and present stories, that gives Every Little Step its richness. One begins to see how closely interwoven are the original recorded interviews, such as the careless phrase “Ah, I can do that,” and the actual auditions of the actors.
Touching and hilarious moments are frequent. Chryssie Whitehead, a Kristine hopeful, displays the same breathless wonder as her character and quickly chokes up as she admits her father is praying for her audition. And in the most gripping moment of the film, Jason Tam delivers a quiet and restless rendition of Paul’s monologue that has the directors in tears. He, like Whitehead, gets a callback.
Possibly the film’s greatest problem (if it has one) is its narrow range of focus. Fans may wonder whatever happened to the casting of Diana Morales, or why there aren’t more interviews with original cast members. Much about the audition process is also left unexplained, with only brief captions that show how much time has passed between each phase.
When the final cast of dancers appears on Broadway to dazzle with “One,” the show’s finale, viewers can’t help but feel a sense of triumph. Not only have they seen the journey that the performers have gone through, but also how A Chorus Line was nurtured from its humble beginnings by the fruitful minds of Bennett and the rest of the creative team. Their creation traveled from audio tapes to a “downtown” studio to packed theatres around the world. Every Little Step pays homage to this creation with all the razzle-dazzle that it deserves and hardly a misstep.