Show-business documentaries don’t get much more meta than Every Little Step,a film about a fresh-faced band of up-and-comers auditioning for a Broadway revival of A Chorus Line, the famous musical about, um, a fresh-faced band of up-and-comers auditioning for a Broadway musical. The original production racked up an astonishing nine Tonys and a Pulitzer Prize en route to one of the longest runs in Broadway history. But history hasn’t been terribly kind to the play, and the 1985 Richard Attenborough film adaptation featuring Michael Douglas was a notorious bomb.
James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo’s documentary juxtaposes a thumbnail history of A Chorus Line’s development, featuring some of the talent behind the original production, with the stories of dancers yearning desperately for a spot in the revival. The dancers are an attractive, appealing lot, but the filmmakers sacrifice breadth for depth, skipping from story to story without devoting too much time or energy to any one performer.
In the mid-’70s, A Chorus Line was hailed for bringing a new kind of documentary realism to musical theater. Mastermind Michael Bennett interviewed a crowd of dancer-actors, then had A Chorus Line’s writers whittle hundreds of hours of the audiotapes into the text for the show. The problem with both the original show and Every Little Step is that the dancers tend to reduce themselves to familiar show-business archetypes: the self-conscious gay man discovering his sexuality, the ugly duckling hellbent on attaining swanhood by any means necessary, and so on. Every Little Step wants to tap into the poignant humanity behind the cattle calls and brassy production numbers of a big Broadway musical, but ends up feeling like a whole lot of show-business razzle-dazzle. If nothing else, though, it’s a huge improvement over the Attenborough film; given the film’s non-fiction roots, it seems poetically apt that a documentary take is much more satisfying and engaging than the Hollywood treatment.