Every Little Step -- Film Review

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You don't often come out of a documentary humming its music, but James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo's "Every Little Step" involves -- and takes a fresh look at -- the longest running musical in Broadway history, "A Chorus Line." Taking a cue from the show itself, the movie is about what the musical is about: These are the auditions for a Broadway revival of a show that celebrates the chorus lines in musicals by showing an audition.

The result is an insightful, exuberant, probing, long-winded and even exhausting look at what it takes for a performer to have a life in the theater. Okay, and maybe what it takes to have any sort of ambition in life, but the film doesn't set out to make those metaphorical leaps. Its focus is on dancers' leaps and singers' octave climbs.

It's a movie for theater junkies and everyone else who ever appreciated one of the most successful global entertainment tour de forces ever. Though in an age when performing competitions are nightly television fare on "American Idol" and other contrived contests, will anyone else care? Sure, this is the real deal, but Sony Pictures Classics' marketers will have to work to make the case. Television is probably where "Every Little Step" will enjoy its deserved acclaim.

The film focuses on lengthy auditions conducted by Bob Avian, the original co-choreographer and collaborator with the show's late creator, Michael Bennett. As we watch the pool of hopefuls dwindle from a staggering 3,000 to a mere and very talented handful, the film tracks back to the show's origins and incorporates archival footage from that show plus interviews with Bennett and others such as composer Marvin Hamlisch.

Nearly every role gets examined. The film shows how these characters sprang from late-night, audio taped confessions by Broadway "gypsies" Bennett brought together 35 years ago -- some of which is heard on the soundtrack for the first time in years. As the current director, choreographer and casting director huddle for discussions, we learn what they're looking for in these potential cast members, many of whom saw the show as youngsters.

The film's emphasis dramatically favors the women auditioning. (Then again, the show favors them too.) Even so, the best moment comes when an actor nails a dancer's monologue about being gay and his parents' reaction. When you can make the director cry, you've got a good shot at winning the role.

Two fascinating revelations by the creators emerge: how one classic comic song was nearly cut since no one could figure out why it wasn't getting laughs and how actress Marsha Mason, attending an early preview, succinctly told Bennett and Co. how to fix an ending that didn't work.

"Every Little Step" is about as much fun as you can have at a doc these days since so many deal with doom and gloom. And yet the film is a serious one about people of talent who get rejected but continue on no matter what. Show biz ain't for the faint of heart.

For the record, this film probably contains more f-words than any PG-13 film in history.

Opens: April 17 (Sony Pictures Classics)
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