Despite an aughts revival and an eighties movie version, A Chorus Line, Michael Bennett’s groundbreaking, self-referential 1975 whoop of desperation from the “swing” set, has never broken free from the grip of its time and place (the pre-AIDS Great White Way). Some may talk up its “universal” themes of sexual tolerance and artistic struggle, but any musical theater wonk worth his salt knows that A Chorus Line has always been an unapologetically naval-gazing Nellie. And good: the specific travails of stage-aspiring hoofers comprise an epic narrative of physical and psychological arduousness all its own.
Thus it was only a matter of time before someone made a documentary about the casting process behind this show about the casting process. Stern and Del Deo’s fluid, compelling film follows the months-long auditions for its 2006 revival, intercutting that linear drama with snatches from the 1974 midnight audio sessions Bennett conducted with 22 working dancers that served as the show’s anecdotal basis. In the style of 2002’s spelling-bee doc Spellbound, we get to know a handful of the 3,000-plus contestants (forgive me, “competitors”) one by one, and before you can say, “God I hope they [all] get it,” the eliminations begin. A better approximation of the daily rejection that Bennett intended to convey than Richard Attenborough’s strict 1985 screen adaptation, Every Little Step, like A Chorus Line itself, should prove catnip for any self-respecting, self-flagellating actor-dancer.