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Published: Friday, 7/17/2009

Movie review: Every Little Step ****


In January, 1974, choreographer Michael Bennett holed up with 22 dancers and recorded their responses as he questioned them about their lives, hopes, and dreams. The result of this long, dark night of the soul was the musical A Chorus Line, which won nine Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1976.

This sensational documentary takes the story a step further, revisiting the original vision of Bennett (who died in 1987) and how much of what was revealed that January night was transformed into a script by James Kirkwood, Jr., and Nicholas Dante, plus the novel way in which the musical came together. The film also follows the auditions for a 2006 revival, which put dancers through the same grueling paces the musical highlights so eloquently.

There are captivating interviews with everyone from Donna McKechnie, who inspired and first played the pivotal role of Cassie, the former star who is now just desperate for work, to Marvin Hamlisch, who wrote the score and provides some of the most intriguing nuggets. He notes that a title change saved the number "Dance 10, Looks 3" and that actress Marsha Mason may well have rescued the show by pointing out that the original ending left the audience frustrated because Cassie didn't make the cut. The writers changed the ending, wrote in success for Cassie, and were rewarded at the next show with a standing ovation.

Most striking and absolutely unforgettable, though, are the dancers who vie for work in the revival. Braving fierce competition, the finalists wait eight brutal months to find out whether they're hired. Imdb.com reports that a couple of them claimed their "You're hired!" phone calls were staged, a fact that amazingly strips little of the power from Every Little Step, which turns out to be a moving, passionate tribute to determination and heart, whatever you might choose to do in your life.

Like the lady sings: Won't forget, can't regret, what they did for love.

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