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Film in focus from Toronto: Every little step

OK, true confessions time.....I have been a lifelong musical theater enthusiast and even a bit of a "Broadway baby", so a documentary that charts the birth and revival of a landmark piece of musical theater is right up my show biz alley.

In the delightful and surprisingly emotional documentary Every Little Step, co-directors James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo have preserved the genesis and historical significance of the landmark musical A Chorus Line. The musical was a milestone when it premiered in 1975 (I saw it at least three times that I can remember during its original run). Not only did it abandon the usual trappings of a traditional Broadway extravaganza, it introduced a kind of enhanced realism, in its tale of young singers and dancers doing whatever they can to make it into the chorus of a Broadway-bound musical comedy. The original production ran for 10 years, making it the second longest running Broadway show ever after Cats.

The film ably mixes rare archival footage and audio tapes that point to the genesis of the project with a storyline that chronicles the recent revival that just closed on Broadway last month. Michael Bennett, a dancer-turned-choreographer, had an idea that the actual struggles of young dancers with Broadway stardust in their eyes would make a compelling musical showcase. Basing his chorus line of distinct characters on the audiotaped testimonies of real "Broadway gypsies", Bennett brought a modernist and realist edge to the musical theater form that was embraced for its humor, its honesty and its depiction of the struggles to express one's talents as a way of defining one's self in the world.

The contemporary parts of the film illustrate the hard work, cut-throat competition and grueling process of auditions that each of the hopefuls put themselves through for the sake of their art. As the potential cast list gets cut further and further, it becomes clear that the whole process is generally one of rejection after rejection, with the hope of breaking through one day that must be kept alive in order to put oneself through these exhausting paces.

In many ways, A Chorus Line, with its frank depiction of the grit behind the glitter and its acknowledgement that the theater is a tentpole for a unique tribe of sexual and societal misfits, predated the current rash of talent reality shows that blanket American television. The same thrill of watching a young novice move all the way to the top (e.g. become the new American Idol) is mirrored in the film and the musical's depiction of the heartbreak of being cut and the exhilaration of being chosen.

These very human emotions make this more than a film strictly for musical theater afficianados. As in the most revelatory art forms, the artifice reflects on reality. The aspirations of these "Broadway babies" are the hopes we all have to make the most of our talents and find a way to express our individual selves.

For more information on the film, log on to:

Sandy Mandelberger, Toronto FF Dailies Editor

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