in 1975-just a year before the united states bicentennial-robert altman's nashville, e.l. doctorow's ragtime and michael bennett's a chorus line were an artistic triumvirate, each a boldly innovative examination of multicultural american experience. these film/literature/theatrical experiments advanced their respective art forms-and national self-awareness. none of them have been surpassed, but they've all been betrayed-by television. reality tv has squandered the great impulse toward cultural-political exploration by turning democracy and the documentary into bread and circuses. this tragedy defeats every little step, the first doc to chronicle a chorus line's creation.
directors james d. stern and adam del deo use bennett's tape-recorded workshop sessions from 1974-a rare, invaluable resource. those autobiographical shop-talk confessions became the basis for a chorus line's view of the theater world through revelations of nameless individuals' heartbreak and ambition. stern and del deo contrast the show's origin with its 2006 broadway revival, updating those workshop sessions in the contemporary style of reality-tv tryouts. attempting to show how "the big parade goes on for years" (as sung in 42nd street, a chorus line's forerunner), every little step succumbs to the modern confusion where artistic pursuit is reduced to careerism.
by following parsipanny, n.j. hopeful, jessica lee goldyn (her stage-mother pushes her toward a chorus line because it's "right for me, something that i could identify with"), the filmmakers oversimplify how art and theater require the work and imagination of applying oneself. even baayork lee (the show's original connie, now the choreographer of the revival) forgets what art means when she wrongly insists that her successor be exactly like the character connie. this american idol/reality-tv idea, blurring identity and performance, dishonors the nashville, ragtime, chorus line insight that america was an aggregate of strivers, loners and dreamers. reducing it all to a talent show or beauty pageant reflects tv's degradation of democracy.
a chorus line's multi-protagonist format set the template for future dramas that then sentimentalized the concept (as when bob fosse shamelessly ripped off its opening audition number in all that jazz). stern and del deo's now/then comparisons also sentimentalize the revival's production-competing with the original show's concept. the two performers trying out for cassie are far less interesting than historic footage of donna mckechnie's original performance and cautious remembrances. a more strict account of a chorus line's genesis (and of cassie's origin in mckechnie's personal story) might have conveyed the difficult truth that artists don't necessarily get rewarded as they deserve-insight that makes anvil: the movie so great and nashville-like.
while every little step is more authentic than all that jazz and more watchable than richard attenborough's 1985 a chorus line movie debacle, it tends toward mawkishness-ending on "what i did for love" but using "at the ballet" (the show's quintessential number) for caterwauling comic relief. in a bizarre tryout for paul's gay-shame monologue, the observing producers collapse in self-congratulatory tears. this compares poorly to the scene in altman's the company where malcolm mcdowell's gay character specifically scolded the tyrants of hetero norms.
stern and del deo miss their chance to upgrade by omitting the creation of the famous morales and bobby (puerto rican and black) subplots. a chorus line's creative legacy transcended social alienation-a very bicentennial ambition. every little step trades that to celebrate success-a contemporary, reality-tv illusion. -- every little step directed by james d. stern and adam del deo, runtime: 96 min.