Beyond the curtain, dancing around reality

If you sat through "Land of the Lost" last weekend (and if you did, why?), you probably walked out the theater with the strong belief that "A Chorus Line" is, in a word, gay.

After all, that movie does use one of the show-stopping "Chorus Line" selections, "I Hope I Get It," as a constant, tiring source of gay-baiting humor.

It looks as though the people behind "Every Little Step" -- a documentary chronicling the 2006 revival of "A Chorus Line," the classic, Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway hit -- are out to prove you don't have to be gay to enjoy "A Chorus Line," have something to do with the production or even have childhood aspirations of starring in it one day.

Except for a few instances, the subject of homosexuality is barely broached. It appears that the attempts "Every Little Step" makes to downplay the musical's gay appeal begin to border on straight-up denial. The movie even glosses over the fact that Michael Bennett, the play's creator and original director, was bisexual and died of AIDS-related lymphoma in 1987.

Nevertheless, the chorus line of "Step" (which doesn't make a single mention of the 1989 Bobby Brown hit of the same name, in case you were wondering) is an inclusive affair. Just as it began all those years ago -- with Bennett assembling a group of dancers one night to interview them on tape about their lives and experiences -- the people behind the revival want to include everybody. And that's what they get, about 3,000 Equity and non-Equity dancers auditioned to be in "A Chorus Line."

Directors Adam Del Deo and James D. Stern (both did "The Year of the Yao") pace this movie in a sleek, frenetic fashion, practically acknowledging that they've made this movie to appeal to reality-TV junkies. (This might as well be called "So You Think You Can Dance: The Movie.") Amid the dancers auditioning, they manage to tell the story of how "A Chorus Line" came to be, courtesy of some of the people who were there, such as composer Marvin Hamlisch, who can't stop calling Bennett a "genius," and original cast member/revival choreographer Baayork Lee, whose biggest instruction to the dancers is to "Eat nails!"

I couldn't help but find "Step" a bit redundant. I mean, this is a documentary about dancers trying to make it in a play -- about dancers trying to make it in a play. I've never seen the entire play (the same thing goes for the dismally received, Richard Attenborough-directed 1985 movie version starring Michael Douglas, which I'm sure no one involved with the play wants me to bring up), but I'm gonna assume that what made "Line" such a hit was that it hipped audiences to just how hard it was for dancers to make a respectful, consistent living doing what they love.

For diehard "Line" fans, "Step" discloses things I'm pretty sure they already know.

The most amusing thing about "Step" is the near-agonizing lengths it goes to to show how all the dancers who auditioned got a fair shot. All the major contenders -- from Jessica, the New Jersey gal who always dreamed of being in "Line," to Chryssie, the dancer whose infectious, sunny disposition charms you even when she keeps bumping into the camera crew, to Deidre, the sista trying to get a role that's usually reserved for a white girl -- are people who deserve a chance. Because they're talented and they're enthusiastic and, gosh darnit, they just have the chops for it. Even the people who don't end up in the play are seen as likable go-getters who could've easily snapped up a role.

"Step" would have you believe there is no place for prima donnas on Broadway, because there isn't a drama queen in the whole bunch. And those who show up with a swelled head immediately get served a harsh lesson. There's only one dancer who exhibits an inkling of a diva attitude, and that person is kicked to the curb by the end of the movie. (Take your ego to Hollywood -- this is Broadway, baby!)

And therein lies the major misstep of "Step."

For a movie that wants to win over the reality-TV crowd, it lacks the one thing those viewers crave: conflict. There's no infighting or catfighting or any fighting of any sort.

Considering that many of the dancers are seen as neurotic, self-critical worrywarts, the biggest thing keeping them from a part in the play is themselves.

Amy Adams once told Vanity Fair that she had a speaking part in a "Line" production, and a woman who she thought was her friend was telling the director lies about Adams in the hopes of getting her spot. And this was a dinner-theater production in Colorado! You can just imagine the deceitfulness and backstabbing that would go on in a Great White Way production like this.

But alas, "Step" refuses to go there. There are no stories or examples of two-faced, scheming desperation being passed around here. Its view of Broadway as a drama-free, incessantly optimistic, dang-near-Capraesque land of opportunity is a nice thought. But would it have killed them to show a bit of the bitter truth? I believe that's what the guy who came up with the play went to his grave trying to do.

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