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Two singular sensations

Posted by Ty Burr  September 18, 2008 03:04 PM

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As someone who's reasonably but not insanely into Broadway musicals (i.e., Sondheim yes, Lloyd Webber no thanks), it has always surprised me that "A Chorus Line" has never set my beanie awhirl. But maybe not -- until last night, all I had to go on was the dire 1985 movie version, directed by Richard "I knew nothing about dancing" Attenborough (because when you think of one of the legendary New York musicals, you immediately think of the guy who made "Gandhi").

The Broadway Across America touring version currently playing at Boston's Opera House has already been ably reviewed by Louise Kennedy, so I'm not the first to think that the big Cassie dance solo needs more snap, that "Dance Ten, Looks Three" needs enunciation (whose idea was it to turn the "That ain't it, kid" tagline into a triplet?), that Gabrielle Ruiz almost steals the show as Diana, and that the group numbers are pure powerhouse choreography.

Oddly, my interest in seeing this show came about from another movie: a documentary called "Every Little Step" that I caught at the Toronto film festival. Directed by James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo, it both traces the genesis of "A Chorus Line" -- we get to hear the actual audiotapes of Michael Bennett's roundtable research gabfests with working dancers, some of which were cut-and-pasted directly into the show's book -- and follows auditions for the 2006 Broadway revival which is now touring the country. Those auditions become as suspenseful as the plot of the show itself, as we wait to see which of the struggling performers will make the cut. The movie's surprisingly compelling -- at times it plays as a reality competition with actual talent involved -- and it got me wanting to see a musical that hadn't interested me that much before.

You can do it the other way around, too: See the touring version, then catch the documentary (Sony has just picked it up, though no release date has been set). Just spare yourself the Attenborough film, which is one singular misfire.

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.

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Tom Russo is a regular correspondent for the Movies section and writes a weekly column on DVD releases.

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