September 12, 2008 / 7:21 PM / 9 years ago

"Chorus Line" doc takes "Little Step" to big screen

TORONTO (Reuters) - “Every Little Step” is best described in a way unlike few movies before it. The film is a documentary, within a documentary.

<p>Dancers take the stage in "A Chorus Line" in this publicity photo from the documentary film "Every Little Step" released to Reuters September 12, 2008. REUTERS/Paul Kolnik/Handout</p>

The description doesn’t stop there, either, because “Every Little Step,” which debuted earlier this week at the Toronto International Film Festival, is no “talking head” documentary with only sobering interviews from experts on a given subject.

There is singing, dancing and tales of hopes and dreams of young performers shooting for stardom -- just like the musical on which the film is based, “A Chorus Line,” which was created by Michael Bennett and ran on Broadway for 15 years.

“Michael always said that if there was ever going to be a movie (of the musical) ... it should be a documentary,” “Every Little Step” co-director James Stern told Reuters.

One reason for that is because “A Chorus Line” was -- still is -- its own real-life tale of making it on Broadway. Hence the description: a documentary within the documentary.

“Every Little Step” trains its cameras on the backstage casting for the 2006 Broadway revival of “A Chorus Line,” which was created by Bennett from tapes he made of a 12-hour talking session with New York City dancers on a winter day in 1974.

Convinced there would be a story about their experiences, Bennett set about creating “A Chorus Line,” which became a smash hit and a Tony award-winning production in its day.

In the original show, on a spare stage, unknown singers and dancers talk about themselves, and what emerges is a human tale on what it means to struggle to achieve a goal -- any goal.

SHRIEKS OF JOY, TEARS OF FAILURE

For “Every Little Step,” Stern and co-director Adam Del Deo took their cameras and microphones to the 2006 auditions and recorded shrieks of joys, tears of failure and performers making their way through complicated song-and-dance routines.

A few of the finalists have their own real-life stories played out on the movie screen. Will they make the show?

It was the first time the Actors Equity union allowed cameras into an audition room, and thousands of hopefuls showed up to fill 19 roles during the open call for auditions.

On screen, art begins imitating life as the actors perform numbers from the show such as “I Can Do That,” “At the Ballet,” and “The Music and the Mirror.”

One touching moment is an audition for the role of “Paul,” in which the performer re-interprets a drag act that make the players on-screen cry. Toronto audiences shed tears, too.

To maintain the parallels between the old and new, Stern and Del Deo play audio snippets from Bennett’s original tapes, and provide grainy footage of the writer, director and choreographer who died in 1987 at age 44.

Interviews with composer Marvin Hamlisch, choreographer and director Bob Avian, and a few original cast members supplement the documentary and combined with the tapes, they provide a haunting narration of the past.

Hamlisch reveals how “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three” almost didn’t make the cut for the 1975 “Chorus Line” debut because the song was originally titled “Tits and Ass.”

“Every Little Step” premiered here to a standing ovation, and Donna McKechnie, an original cast member and Bennett’s wife, told the audience it was a great tribute to her husband.

“She’s given us the greatest compliment that we could ever have, which is that she told us that not only did she love it, but even more importantly, that Michael Bennett would love it,” Stern said.

Editing by Bob Tourtellotte

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