Every Little Step sat in my watch instantly queue for quite some time. Meanwhile, I was recently promoted to admin from receptionist so I’ve been getting to know the executives I’m assisting. Living in a big city like Chicago means you really don’t have the luxury of making a lot of assumptions about people. I used to labor under the delusion that I was the enlightened one amidst a community of cube-dwellers because I had the balls to take a job less than me so that I could follow my dreams. Well, needless to say I’ve learned how egotistical and basically wrong that is. I’m not saying I’m constantly surrounded by sensitive aesthetes at my day job. I’m just saying I’ve quit being so surprised when one of the execs I assist (Whom I will refer to as Merv) turns out to be European and a fantastically talented amateur photographer and connoisseur of the theatre and also hilarious and incredibly easy to work for. So let it be known artist-friends, that even in the depths of corporate America are very delightful non-drones who make excellent documentary suggestions.
A couple months ago, upon finding out I’m an actor, Merv asked if I had seen Every Little Step. I said no but that it had been languishing in my queue for some time. He convinced me to watch it and so yesterday, in a fog of my annual winter plague (a delightful combination of cold/sinus infection) I plopped down and pressed play.
This documentary tells the story of both the creation of the original production of A Chorus Line and the 2008 Broadway Revival casting process.
This morning, when Merv asked how my weekend was, I said I watched Every Little Step.
MERV: What did you think?
ME: I loved it!
MERV: Who was that guy? That guy.
MERV: The judge! On, um, the So You Think… agh….the yutz!
ME: Tyce Diorio? Yes! What an ego!
MERV: I know!
ME: Didn’t get the role, did he?
MERV: No, he didn’t.
I love So You Think You Can Dance. I think it’s a grand program that pushes it’s viewers to think about art and dance and theatre and performance. It busts with creativity and the choreographers often bring me to either tears or absolute joy. Tyce Diorio is one of those choreographers. His Damn Yankees number from last season was perfection. Absolute perfection. I don’t even like Damn Yankees.
So with all due respect to his current artistic incarnation, Merv’s right. In Every Little Step, Tyce is a yutz. But I’ll get to that in a bit.
I always say if you get a chance to be on the other side of the audition table, do it. No class can teach you more. Every Little Step does just that. It’s very much about dance. But the vulnerability of auditioning as a performing artist is a universal experience.
When I watch showbiz movies or documentaries I try to learn something from them that can help me. With Every Little Step I learned two big things.
1. Humbleness and Confidence are not mutually exclusive.
2. I’m paraphrasing but one of the producers says “The way to get a role on Broadway is to audition and callback as if it’s opening night.” That’s how polished your performance has to be. I’m not exactly auditioning for Broadway, but it’s good advice that applies across the board.
In reference to Lesson #1, let’s get back to Tyce. I mentioned his choreography skills before. Let’s talk about his dancing ability: unbelievable. Out of this world talent. Of the three finalists for that particular role (the one that sings “I Can Do That”), by far the best dancer. But his ego was OUT. OF. CONTROL. And he ultimately lost the role.
Every Little Step demonstrates that fine line between confidence and egotism. You can be humble and confident at the same time. It also shows how being “the best” isn’t always the clincher. But then again, sometimes it definitively is. My favorite moment is when an auditionee makes four hardened Broadway salts cry with his performance of a monologue they have heard a million times. He ultimately secures the role. After he leaves the room, the director says while wiping tears away, “that hasn’t happened to me in 30 years. In an audition!”
To be able to be THAT vulnerable…in an audition. Oy. I should be so lucky.
In this world of shows that seem to cash in on the audition scenario (American Idol and the like) it’s easy to forget what real auditions are like…and no, I don’t consider American Idol a real audition. Being able to sing a cappella by yourself is worth a cup of jack squat. In Every Little Step, each one of those auditionees is a consummate professional. The only tearful breakdowns occur either as an acting choice during a read or after they have been offered a role.
Finally, Every Little Step confirmed a suspicion I’ve had for some time. To quote Julie Andrews in the PBS documentary, Broadway: The American Musical, “while the theatres rarely change, the musicals have always reflected our changing times.” Right now, belt is big. Belt is the thing. The influence of singers like Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth and the like have made most auditions a long series of forced money notes. In Every Little Step, we watch as person after person belts out the “At the ballet” progression to the point that finally the director says, “Honey, you don’t have to shout it.” Volume is often confused with quality.
I believe that we have reached the current peak of the belt and that, due to the work of composers like Adam Guettel, the increased emphasis on Sondheim’s more classical works, and the general forward movement of art, it’s going to get more legit from here on out. That’s not to say that belt will every go away. It won’t. And I don’t want it to. I’m just saying I want a nice balance back.
But I digress.
In summary, Every Little Step taught me to stand tall, be confident, be polished and professional at all times, and in the words of Merv, don’t be a yutz.