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Every Little Step

For nearly 35 years, it’s been a tenet of the commercial theatre world that Buffalo’s Michael Bennett created a musical-theatre breakthrough when he conceived, shepherded and dragooned into existence the 1975 phenomenon, A Chorus Line. Based on the audio-recorded confessional conversations of 24 Broadway dancers about their lives, their early dreams and hopes, and the uniquely challenging life of the gypsy ensemble dancer, the show offered a different, franker backstage look at the theatre.

Bennett turned to Public Theatre impresario Joe Papp, composer Marvin Hamlisch (another Buffalo link) and the writers James Kirkwood, Nicholas Dante and Edward Kleban to turn this raw—in more than one sense—material into the show that triumphed and ran for an unprecedented 15 years.

James D. Stern and Adam Del Dio’s Every Little Step frames its chronicle of the auditions for a 2006 revival of the show with excerpts from the previously inaccessible 35-year-old recordings, interviews with some of the original production’s creators and performers, and film and tape from Bennett’s interviews and dancing.

But the archival voice tapes are used only sparingly, and however intriguing to A Chorus Line’s mavens, they aren’t very conducive to cinema. The soft-shouldered irony is that this documentary makes the poignant travails and brutalities of the dancer’s life more palpable and compelling than A Chorus Line does.

Every Little Step may be too fragmented and repetitive for some, though it does capture the kind of sacrifices that are sometimes demanded but may not be enough. Despite the self-absorption underlying the auditioners’ efforts, the depiction of their ordeal can be heart rending. Former New York Ballet star Jacques D’Ambroise turns up briefly (his daughter is trying out) and says with simple sadness, “The hardest part is when you can’t dance [anymore].”

The film was produced by the late Bennett’s lawyer and this may be part of the reason why it tactfully ignores earlier charges and litigation about his alleged unprincipled exploitation of the artists’ voices and stories.

Musicals exemplify theatre for tens of millions of Americans, but probably very few understand the sometimes brutal facts of life for those who make that theatre possible. Every Little Step gives new meaning to the phrase, dancing their hearts out.

george sax

Watch the trailer for Every Little Step

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