If the barometer of a Broadway show’s success is how many times I see it, the greatest hit ever would be the musical “They’re Playing Our Song.” I saw it six times, which is remarkable given that it only ran a little over two years. I was so enamored by it that I had to see new cast iterations, etc.. And, of course, I felt compelled to see it with all my friends as if I was showing off my new car.
However, there is another musical that comes in at a close second to “They’re Playing Our Song” with respect to Len-attendance. That would be the superlative “A Chorus Line,” which I saw five times. Spaced out a bit more judiciously given that it originally ran on Broadway for over fifteen years.
I remember my first time at the Shubert Theater. The show was fresh, new, and the hottest ticket on Broadway. I desperately had to see it just to keep up with the party conversation amongst my friends. So I took a date to the very top row of the balcony. There’s a problem seeing a musical about dancers when you can only see the tops of their heads. The evening was made worse by my evening companion who was a pill on her very best days. There was one nosebleed joke after another, until I literally wanted to toss her to Donna McKechnie’s feet on the fly. Needless to say, on that particular night, I didn’t get “A Chorus Line.”
The second time was the charm. Through a friend at work who went to the same temple as one of the Shuberts, I wound up with house seats. Tenth row center, on the aisle. And, on my own, I had ditched the bitch in favor of a more pleasant compatriot. And then I got to see the magic that was truly “A Chorus Line.”
While it’s about show business, there is a thread of life that all can identify with in that story. Getting a job. Achieving something. The pain of trying and not succeeding. The joy of trying and succeeding. Set against some of the most glorious music ever penned for Broadway, “A Chorus Line” deserved every kudo it ever got.
And now, you can relive it all with the amazing new documentary “Every Little Step.” In a story set in a story set in a story, this film follows the journey of those auditioning to be in the 2006 revival of the musical. Juxtaposed against the original tapes of dancers in conversation with show creator Michael Bennett, history from over 30 years ago is miraculously updated and even rewritten. I did not see the recent revival primarily because it looked more like a museum piece than a new rethink on a classic. But, now I regret my decision. Having met the cast and the would-be cast in this movie, I shouldn’t have been so quick to shortchange their talents.
Oddly enough, when I first saw “A Chorus Line,” I was under the mistaken impression that the show changed every night. I was convinced by some urban legend that different characters were selected on different nights. I couldn’t have been more wrong. “A Chorus Line” was carefully crafted and done to the letter every night. I did learn from this documentary, however, a fascinating factoid about the character of Cassie, a successful dancer desperately looking for one last job. When it first previewed, Cassie does not get the job. Oddly enough, actress and then-wife of Neil Simon, Marsha Mason, came to see the show one night and noted the empty feeling in the audience when Cassie is not selected. Marsha made a beeline for Michael Bennett and told him that Cassie’s non-selection sabotages the show for the audience. The next night, they did it Marsha’s way and the standing ovation at the end lasted for ten minutes. The rest was Broadway history.
I was enthralled by some of the dancers/characters trying out for the 2006 version. One is this girl from Parsippany, New Jersey, who had no Broadway experience. But, having done "A Chorus Line" in a college production, it was her lifelong dream to do it on the Great White Way. Another actress is almost a cinch to play the hardboiled character of Sheila. But, between callbacks, she totally forgets how she plays the role from one audition to another. Having worked with some actors in showcases, I can identify. When we were casting for our series of table reads, there was one actress who got her role immediately. Except she completely lost it the very next time. It was like the girl had disappeared. We literally had to work with her day and night over numerous dinners to help her find it again. I realized then what an amazingly difficult craft acting is. And how wobbly it can be from one day to the next.
"Every Little Step" is also one more prime example of just how good a movie documentary can be. Even if you never saw "A Chorus Line," you'll love this snapshot of hopes and dreams.
I am convinced, however, that my first Chorus Line date would find plenty wrong with it.
Dinner last night: Back in LA---got bumped up to business class so I had AA's reuben sandwich.