The word “documentary”often hits the sleep button on locked down viewer’s brains while they’re skating up and down their remotes looking, in this COVID-19 induced drought, for something to watch, something to wash away the tension and anxiety.

The word evokes tours of museums, dry stories of scientific research or long dead inventors.

“Every Little Step”, released in select theaters in 2008, is instead, a rare inside look at a Broadway musical audition, an example of how a special documentary can be full of light and excitement, passion and fun.

“Every Little Step” starts with a haunting shot of lighted windows in a New York apartment house as a winter snow begins to fall, and then a shot of an old reel to reel tape recorder, and invites us to listen to a young dancer, Michael Bennett, and a group of dancer friends recording a plan.

Bennett had an idea for a show, not just with dancers, but about dancers, about their struggles, heartbreak, pain and dreams.

We hear Bennett tell them, “I think we’re all pretty interesting, and I think you are all pretty interesting. And maybe there’s a show in that somewhere.”

There sure was. And it was an idea that became a billion dollar miracle called “ A Chorus Line,” a show that opened in New York, won nine Tony Awards, the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, drama mind you, a play with music and dancers, a play with dancers that inspired young wannabe dancers to flock to New York and be part of a dream.
But all of this is only in the first moments of “Every Little Step.”

Then this happened. John Breglio, a producer and the lawyer for Bennett’s estate, called filmmakers James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo and got them to observe the work for a revival of the show, and the action began.

The film takes you to the cold streets of Manhattan when the buzz on the street began to heat up, and the casting call went out for dancers to re-create “A Chorus Line.”

We watch 3,000 young dancers get in line in a pouring rain, file into a waiting room that smells of sweat, rosin, gum and wet wool. They fill out cards, hand their pictures to an assistant, and begin an eight-month journey of pain and breath-holding days and nights.

The cameras take us to dressing rooms, rehearsal halls and the nightmarish “audition room,” where all of these hungry boys and girls, trained, muscled and sparked up, face five men and a woman behind a table full of their pictures and resumes.

This is where we meet Baayork Lee, who created the original “Connie.”

Baayork is a tiny woman, maybe 4-foot 11, a fierce ball of fire and energy who is helping cast the revival. Watching her standing in front of a rehearsal mirror and guiding the newcomers through the moves is part of the excitement.

Composer Marvin Hamlisch, who wrote every note and word, sits beside Bob Avian, who stood beside Bennett in the beginning.

One by one for hours, days, weeks, a parade of the young, the lean and taut, file in, sing the same required songs, dance the same steps, smile, make jokes and hope for a smile, the nod of a head, anything, to give them hope. This isn’t just any audition, this is the audition of a life time, a chance to be part of the repainting of a masterpiece.

The men and the woman at the table are virtually cattle herders, with a smile and heart, but tough cullers. And then they’re down to the finalists, and we’re there with them; we can feel their hearts beating, smell their perfumed sweat.

Finally, after 90 minutes of this drama, we meet the winners, the “Gypsies” who will take the stage and create new versions of the originals who went on to become stars. I guarantee that you will scream and cry with them when their names are called.

“Every Little Step,” cannot be seen as a documentary. It is a full length movie, and you’re in it. You’ll be glad you came, and sad to leave.

“Every Little Steps” shows now on Amazon Prime Video.

 

J.P. Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and screen actor.

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