Every Little Step: Loving to Seminal Musical “A Chorus Line,” Co-directed by James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo

Call it postmodernism, repetition, or life imitates art and art imitates life, but all of these labels describe the essence of “Every Little Step,” the loving and lovable tribute to the seminal musical “A Chorus Line,” co-directed by James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo.


As a docu, “Every Little Step” is not particularly provocative or revelatory in insights, but it does capture vividly the process of auditioning for the 2006 Broadway revival of “A Chorus Line,” which is the ultimate and definitive show about auditioning, as the late Michael Bennett showed in his masterful 1975 production. 


Just as in the story of A Chorus Line, just as in life itself, only a few can prevail. Out of the thousands of performers who audition, only 19 are chosen to open the revival on Broadway. Their lives are interwoven with one of the world’s greatest musicals, their hopes and dreams hanging in the balance.  There’s synergy among the original Broadway show, its major revival, countless touring companies, and the new docu, all of which have become (or would become) part and parcel of American pop culture.


I am partial to the show, which I have seen a number of times.  I recall fondly seeing the first Downtown production in the spring 1975 at the Joseph Pap’s Public Theater, when I was an undergraduate student at Columbia University.


At the very least what “Every Little Step” is doing is to eradicate the bad taste left after Richard Attenborough’s dreadful screen version in 1983 with Michael Douglas in the lead. The movie world-premiered at the 2009 New Directors/New Films, co-sponsored by MoMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and is now theatrically released by Sony Pictures Classics.


As many of you know by now, “A Chorus Line” isn’t just another successful Broadway musical—it’s an international phenomenon that has spanned four decades and reached audiences in 22 countries around the world. Through 15 years of continuous performances from the 1970s to 1990s and a revival last year, “A Chorus Line” has touched generations around the world.


“Every Little Step” explores the incredible journey of A Chorus Line from ambitious idea to international phenomenon. It compares and contrasts the original musical with the current revival. It investigates the societies in which they’ve debuted, and why the themes are so timeless and universal.  The docu goes behind the scenes with exclusive interviews and footage of the revival’s audition process, revealing the dramatic journey of the performers, and unfolding a story of life imitating art.


You could say that “A Chorus Line” and now “Every Little Step” are predecessors of TV Reality shows, such as “American Idol.”  The source materials of “A Chorus Line” are middle-of-the-night conversations in a dance studio, primitively (by today’s standards) recorded to audiotapes, which have been locked away for decades.


To their credit, filmmakers James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo, who have been granted unprecedented access to the artists and footage, do not claim to offer an objective or detached evaluation. Interviews, then and now, with the creative minds that shaped “A Chorus Line” and the cast who realized it, the original real-life “gypsies,” provide lively if not novel glimpses into the behind-the-scenes events, shedding light on the realities behind the genesis of the show and its revival.


Socio-political context is crucial:  You can’t divorce the show from the broader settings in which it was made and seen.  The original musical arose at a volatile time, in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate, as the hippy era declined, as movements in civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights were gaining voices across the world, and as the Cold War continued without end in sight. A Chorus Line injected into this fractured landscape a saga of the under-appreciated, the overlooked, the everyday individual who struggled in pursuit of fulfillment. 


While “Every Little Step” explores the legacy of “A Chorus Line,” it also reflects upon our current society, which has so enthusiastically received the revival. There are certain similarities to the era of the original: we’re in the wake of a controversial war, the specter of violence (in this case through terrorism) is constantly on the horizon, political corruption has citizens across the world calling for leaders to step down, and movements for racial, religious, and sexual equality persist. Perhaps these factors explain A Chorus Line’s continuing popularity, a desire for the chorus of clamoring voices to be heard.


In today’s Internet-dominated world, blogs and sites like MySpace and YouTube allow new avenues for expression and voyeurism. The virtual worlds of online gaming provide new levels of escapism and role-playing. Perhaps the themes of A Chorus Line are more relevant now than ever.


“Every Little Step” taps into another modern phenomenon: Pop Idol, American Idol, Deutschland such den Superstar, Nouvelle Star, Latin American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, and countless reality TV shows watched by millions worldwide.


The docu taps into our contemporary culture, which is obsessed with celebrities, with the rise to fame of “ordinary” people, with rags to riches stories, which continue to serve mythical purposes. Who hasn’t wanted to bask in the limelight, to dance and sing with incredible talent, to bare one’s soul to adoring masses. In “Every Little Step,” for the first time in Broadway’s history, camera crews were allowed into the extensive audition process. This exclusive privilege allowed helmers Stern and Del Deo to capture intimate and the grueling behind-the-scenes moments of actors suffering emotional breakdowns, dancers executing the most exquisite pirouettes of their lives, and directors moved to tears by a new delivery of a line they’ve heard a thousand times before.


Footage of these artists auditioning, rehearsing, and performing, combined with candid interviews, will deeply invest audiences in their arduous journey. On screen, the performers reveal their backgrounds and dreams as they struggle to cope with Broadway’s emotional roller coaster. The real-life drama will have audiences on tenterhooks as they root for their favorites.


Sporadically, the new docu displays the musical and visual poetry of “Chorus Line” as a socio-cultural phenom, which back in the 1970s sparked renewed interest in musical theater, new trends in fashion, and new inspiration for storytelling.  I doubt whether Bob Fosse would have been able to create his masterpiece, “All That Jazz,” in 1979, without the inspiration provided by Michael Bennett and “A Chorus Line.”