Tuesday, December 22, 2009

DVD Review: Every Little Step

DVD: Every Little Step: The Journey of "A Chorus Line". 2009. Edited by Fernando Villena and Brad Fuller. Endgame Producer John Breglio. Produced and Directed for film by James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo. A Sony Pictures Classics Release of an Endgame Entertainment Production. 93 minutes. Rated PG-13 for Strong Language and Sexual References.

Featuring: Bob Avian (Revival Director), Baayork Lee (Original Cast Member, Revival Choreographer), John Breglio (Revival Producer), Donna McKechnie (Original Cast Member) and auditioners: Jason Tam, Jeffrey Schechter, Tyce Diorio, Charlotte d'Amboise, Nikki Snelson, Yuka Takara, Chryssie Whitehead, Rachelle Rak, Jessica Lee Goldyn, Diedre Goodwin.


The documentary film, Every LIttle Step, is really two films in one, and both succeed in the same superior quality as the source material, the Broadway legend, A Chorus Line. Half the film is a history of the making of the musical, from the history of Michael Bennett (carefully edited so as to make clear the connections his entire life had to leading up to the landmark piece, to lengthy and telling segments of those first recorded sessions from 1974 which led to the creation, through the rehearsal process and the subsequent blockbuster phenomenon the original became. It also very smartly provides context about the state of Broadway at the time, why the show resonated so much, and how it created history from the get go - A Chorus Line was the first Broadway show to be workshopped, and among the first to travel from off-Broadway to Broadway. The other, equally smart half chronicles the long, arduous process of casting the first ever Broadway revival. All one has to do is listen to the words of revival director Bob Avian and choreographer Baayork Lee to fully understand why this revival was so important to them, to the show's legacy and to the new generation of dancers who would eventually bring it back to life. "What I Did For Love" resonates throughout the piece.

The historical aspect of the film, straight from the mouths of those who were there clears up a lot of rumor and innuendo (even addressing some of it, such as Bennett's struggle with homosexuality, Marvin Hamlisch's initial reluctance to join the show, Donna McKechnie's contributions) and leaves the ugly stuff mostly to the side - that Bennett was a task master, demanding, and mean at times is both legend and cliche at this point. Anyone with an interest, and particularly anyone with a passion to perform should and needs to know the history of this show, and this film provides plenty.


Perhaps the most startling aspect of the revival audition portion of the film is that even though one knows who makes the final cut and who doesn't, the entire process is heart-stopping, on the edge of your seat entertainment, only with real people and lives at stake. I found myself speechless at the "quality" of some of the early auditioners, the gutsy confessions of the auditioners who, in the length of one sentence goes from dignified confidence to shear panic, to troubling self-doubt and back again.

Still, knowing who makes it and who doesn't makes the final show downs all the more interesting, and I had to fight to not do Monday morning quarterbacking. And as someone who frequents Broadway shows and is familiar with several of these performers' work, it was exciting to see them through this lack of filter. Regional actress Natascia Diaz and Broadway dancers Rachelle Rak (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Fosse) and Nikki Snelson (Legally Blonde, ultimately the tour of A Chorus Line) give of themselves amazingly throughout, and watching as each deals with their ultimate rejection is sad, difficult, and makes me respect them even more as performers. Even more interesting is watching the ladies who get the roles transform from their first audition to their final callback, though, to me Chryssie Whitehead had the part from the second she opened her mouth. Watching Jessica Lee Goldyn get on the bus from home to New York was poetic justice considering she ultimately lands the role of Val, even though she is initially only being considered for covering roles. Seeing the venerable Charlotte d'Amboise being as nervous as a first-timer and watching the love from her famous father, Jaques d'Amboise, is a heart-warming center of the film.

Interestingly, most of the male roles are not even mentioned, let alone filmed, save for the roles of Mike, ultimately played (and as you see in the film, for VERY good reason) by Jeffrey Schechter, and Paul played ultimately by Jason Tam. In the case of Mike, you get to see more of the process, including one finalist, Tyce Diorio, the ultimate in chorus boy cuteness and stupid arrogance - you want to hate him and love laughing at his pomposity. But in the case of Paul, you get to see Tam's audition from start to finish, as isolated on film as the actual monlogue is in the show. The casting table was reduced to tears and so was I. I had to pause the DVD. Simply marvelous.

And so, even though they short change us on the male side of things, Every Little Step gets every other little thing right. And that includes the significant extras, including a full interview with Miss McKechnie, much more of the original A Chorus Line tapes and added commentary from Frank Rich, which shows the butcher of Broadway has a heart and impeccable taste.

From the theatre novice to the casual musical fan to the student of theatre to the obsessed like me, Every Little Step is a must have DVD.


(Photos: TOP to BOTTOM: The revival cast in rehearsal; Charlotte d'Amboise and Baayork Lee at the audition; Rachelle Rak; Tyce Diorio; The revival company in performance - "I Hope I Get It.")

Comments? Leave on here or write to me at jkstheatrescene@yahoo.com

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, M.S. for your correction, which you will see I made above.

    (Somehow, I lost your comment. I'm sorry I can't post it, now.)



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