- The Washington Times - Friday, May 22, 2009

“Every Little Step” is more than a little like an echo chamber.

The documentary about a group of dancers auditioning for a Broadway musical about a group of dancers auditioning for a Broadway musical might seem as if it were made for those who already love “A Chorus Line” — or, even more, those who already have been in “A Chorus Line.”

This lively documentary is not just for insiders, though. The human drama captured here speaks to anybody who ever has wanted something and wondered if he or she was good enough to get it — in other words, the entire human race.

The film tells two stories at once. It interweaves the background of the original creation of “A Chorus Line” with a behind-the-scenes look at the casting of the 2006 revival. Excerpts are played from the original reel-to-reel tapes of director and co-choreographer Michael Bennett talking to the real dancers on whom the characters are based. “I think we’re all pretty interesting, and I think you are all pretty interesting. And maybe there’s a show in that somewhere,” the late Mr. Bennett explains.

There certainly was. “A Chorus Line” won nine Tony Awards and the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and went on to become Broadway’s fourth-longest-running show. We meet some members of the original cast, including Donna McKechnie, to whom Mr. Bennett was married briefly. (She met him on “Hullabaloo,” and a clip from that ‘60s television series shows the choreographer’s prodigious talent as a stylish dancer who seemed to move effortlessly.) Baayork Lee, the original Connie, helps cast the revival, though her presence only seems to make the girls angling to play a character completely based on her own life nervous.

Three thousand people showed up on a rainy day in New York for the first day of casting. They had only a chance to do a double pirouette before cuts were made. What follows is eight months of cutting and callbacks until the roles finally were cast. The viewer almost feels like a casting director, too: You can watch five people sing the same song and make your own judgments about who should get the job. (A scene in which many attempt Maggie’s crescendo — and I did say “attempt” — makes it obvious who should play that part, though. As does a performance in which the actor trying out for Paul makes everyone watching weep along with him.)

These stories of struggle, leading to triumph or defeat, are what make “Every Little Step” so fascinating. They’re also the film’s weakness — we only get a taste of who these people are and how they came to be here. We want to know as much about them as we know about Connie, Paul and the rest of the “Chorus” characters.

“I knew from the beginning I was going to put all my eggs in this basket,” a hopeful named Jessica says about the “Chorus” revival. “If you have something to fall back on, you’ll fall back.” Another, named Rachelle, constantly reminds us of the insecurities that could ruin a dancer personally and professionally. “Am I tall enough, am I pretty enough, am I good enough?” she says of how she feels going into “work” every day. “You better look in the mirror and like yourself, because they’re not going to like you all the time.”

That’s good advice — for a person in any profession. The tales of a very special group of people — talented artists vying to be in a big Broadway show — hold lessons for us all.

★★★

TITLE: “Every Little Step”

RATING: PG-13 (Some strong language, including sexual references)

CREDITS: Directed by Adam Del Deo and James D. Stern

RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes

WEB SITE: sonyclassics.com/everylittlestep

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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