Yesterday evening, I started to feel a little better and decided to hop on the Red Line to the AMC 21 to see a free screening of Every Little Step, a documentary about the creation of the original production “A Chorus Line” and the casting of the recent Broadway revival.
A Chorus Line is the show that most every musical theater performer turns to as their inspiration. Back in 1975, it was groundbreaking. To have a character openly talk about his homosexuality, or her tits and ass, or struggling for work, was really major stuff for typical Broadway audiences. The story of a Broadway gypsy was finally being told, and these stories contained universal themes of acceptance and following one’s dream – even if that dream shits on you more often than not. “What I Did for Love,” you know.
Every Little Step, the documentary by directors Adam Del Deo and James D. Stern, does a great job highlighting the creation of this show, which was slowly formed using taped sessions director/choreographer Micheal Bennett held with a handful of fellow dancers in 1973. (The documentary does a great job pulling out key parts of those taped sessions and linking them to actual lyrics in the show.) Together with James Kirkwood, Nicholas Dante, Marvin Hamlisch, and Edward Kleban, the show was built. Producer Joseph Papp helped shape the the show’s unique structure. It’s suggested that A Chorus Line established the workshop process that is used to develop nearly every new musical today.
In conjunction with the history of A Chorus Line, Every Little Step follows the lengthy casting process of the 2006 Broadway revival. To me, this is what made the movie — especially as the process got down to the wire. I recognized several faces who didn’t make the cut, most notably Nikki Snelson (who was great as Brooke in Legally Blonde The Musical), Darcie Roberts (whom I caught starring in the first national tour of Thoroughly Modern Millie), Natacia Diaz (whom I caught shortly before she was fired from the revival of Sweet Charity), and Amy Spanger (whom I’ve never seen live, but she’s done a ton of great shit).
And then there’s Rachelle Rak. I’ve seen her on the Fosse DVD (where she made…an impression) and in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (in the ensemble). Her audition experience made the biggest impact. Theoretically, she’s perfect for Sheila, the sassy, smokey, jaded Broadway gypsy. Her initial audition was great, but during the final call back, they pulled her aside and asked her to do what she did at her first audition- eight months earlier. “I can’t remember what I did eight months ago!” she says.
She doesn’t get the job. (No spoiler warning needed, since the revival has already opened and closed.) When she’s told this news, she throws on her coat, paints on a smile and leaves. It’s a tough business.
Natascia Diaz’s story also drives this point home. She’s up for Cassie, the lead role which was defined by Donna McKechnie, and she’s put through the wringer. She considers this to be her “big break.” But when you’re up against Charlotte D’Amboise, whom everyone seems to love and adore, you’re probably sunk. Tears happen.
Nikki Snelson seems like a real trouper. She’s a pro, knows her stuff, and treats the audition experience with a very level head. She doesn’t get the part of Val (tits and ass girl). But, not included in the film, she later headlines the first national tour as Cassie. (See her very solid performance of “Music and the Mirror” here.)
I’m sure every actor dreams of having an audition like Jason Tam’s. Wow. He also seems like a sweet, humble guy. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some guy named Tyce, or Tyse, or Tise, comes off a complete tool. See the documentary – you’ll know what I mean. The audience agreed with me.
Every Little Step was a well-produced documentary, if scattered. While I enjoyed learning the history of the show and seeing the casting process, what was the focus? It dodged between these two areas, not sure of what the story should be. Something’s off when I leave AMC 21 thinking more about Nikki Snelson and Natascia Diaz than Michael Bennett.
Also: Watching this documentary basically answers my question posed below. But not to worry; I’m gunning for Pacific Overtures next weekend.