"I'm Casting as Fast as I Can"
Talking about Dancing is like Loving Architecture
Ever been on a casting session?
If you're on the casting side of things, you have an idea in your head of what you want, walking in, but (if you do it right) you're also looking for a fresh approach—something that you don't expect but presents a unique way of seeing a character. A spark. A flash. Something that surprises and is right and will speak to the audience. Something as ineffable as "magic."
If you're auditioning, walking in, you have butterflies in your stomach, insecurities rattling in your brain, the competition in your cross-hairs, a private life that must be blocked out...and an eternally springing Hope...something as ineffable as "magic."
For the dancer, you also pray your body doesn't betray you. For the dancing performer, it's a process of negotiating through the spines of steel, the aching muscles and the bruised egos. It is this battle-zone where "Every Little Step" performs.
"Every Little Step" is as "meta" as you can get: a documentary on casting a Broadway musical about casting a Broadway musical built around interviews with performers who subsequently work in the production. And it tells the story of the creation of "A Chorus Line," from its origins as 12 hours of taped interviews—they play only a couple tantalizing moments of it— using archival and new interviews, to cover the writing, choreography ideas, problems, and re-tinkering, before it was presented on-stage and broke attendance records.* It is off-set by the casting of the 2006 revival of the show that begins with 3,000 auditions, whittling it down over many months to the final 17. It's like watching a dancer practice in front of an infinite succession of mirrors in a hall...which is what they do.
And there have been subsequent "A Chorus Line" productions, as well as the elephantine movie that really didn't convey the intimacy or the scope of the show. A stage is the natural, organic place for "A Chorus Line." To do anything else boxes it in and blows it out of proportion. The auditioners need to be figures in a spotlight—stuck there like pinned butterflies, or basking in their glow like moths to a flame. The audience needs to see them as what they are and what they want to be—from the same vantage point of the director who is judging them all. The final irony is the audience sees these individuals with their unique stories and gifts wind up as figures in a landscape—a monolithic chorus line of similarly spangle-costumed high-kickers singing a song about... individuality.
I'm sure some people take it at face-value as a jolly musical, but that final irony is like a high-kick to the solar plexus for me, presented with the cheesiest of forced grins. Gotta love it. Gotta dance.
"A Chorus Line" is unromantic about "the life," but absolutely romantic about "the art." And "Every Little Step." sashays between the 2% of inspiration and the 98% of perspiration it takes to make, or break into, a production of that musical. "A Chorus Line" is also oddly like baseball in that you're competing against ghosts of performances past...because for the most part you're playing the characters who originally did "A Chorus Line"...who originally WERE "A Chorus Line."
There's a wonderful sequence where Yuka Takara is auditioning (against her best friend) for the part of "Connie," who was based on dancer Baayork Lee who just happens to be the choreographer for this production of "A Chorus Line." "I'm auditioning for "Connie"...in front of the real "Connie!" she freaks. And for Lee, it's just a weird process. "I can't look at these girls and say 'That's not me!" There's another heart-breaker where an actress who "nailed it" at the try-outs isn't as good at the second audition four months later. "I can't remember what I did back then," she confesses. "I'd just broken up with my boy-friend, and I'm not sure I can get back there." She can't. She doesn't get the part.
Lee has two words of advice for the performers; "Eat nails!" You realize just how much work "A Chorus Line" takes night after night: not only do they have to do the moves, but they have to do it every night...like they're auditioning, with all the desperation, the "Go for Broke" attitude, the "giving it 110%" of an audition...night after night after night. It must be brutal. And part of the great accomplishment of "A Chorus Life" (and its Earth-prime reflection "Every Little Step"), is that it makes you realize that. Night after night after night.
"Every Little Step" is a blue-haired Matinee. (My God, they do matinees, too!)
* It's still, at this date, the fourth longest running Broadway production.