Dance tryouts more fun than actual musical


POSTED: Friday, July 31, 2009

One of the tricky things about “;American Idol”;—and a major reason the show works as well as it does—is that the contestants are thrown curveballs when they expect sliders.





        Rated PG-13

Opens today at Consolidated Kahala






It's a singing contest that's not really about singing; it's about whether the budding talents can actually handle being a singer. And so, they're put under stress to see how they can handle stress. It's a pressure cooker.

But singing is dog's breakfast compared with the challenges of being a dancer. These people are athletes who train every day of their lives, who have cast aside any concept of average existence, and who must also sing and act with great skill—and who do it all for those few minutes on the stage. All that stands in their way is the horrible stress of the audition process, a job that must give the judges restless nights. The scent is one of sweat and desperation.

Michael Bennett's “;A Chorus Line”; examined that process from the inside out, cleverly dissecting the driven, highly individualist personalities of dancers who, ironically, are desperate to gain the uniform anonymity of chorus work.

“;Every Little Step”; is a documentary centered around tryouts a couple of years ago for a Broadway revival of “;Chorus Line,”; and it's pretty delicious the way it slaps real-life parallels atop the supposed fictional or composite characters.

We learn, however, that Bennett crafted “;Chorus Line”; out of hours of confessional couch talk with real dancers, which is why it rings true.

We meet dozens of talented, driven people who are up for the biggest challenge of their lives, one that few will achieve, despite loads of talent and moxie. They all have a kind of foxhole-buddy camaraderie; no one other than they can really understand what they're going through, and so there's a kind of support-group cheer going on, even though to win, that means someone must lose.

Hawaii's Jason Tam is an entrant (see sidebar), and although he isn't much in the film, he delivers a show-stopping monologue that causes tears among the judges—but only after he's exited the room.

The real irony of “;Every Little Step,”; which is otherwise an efficient, workmanlike production, is that it's a better view of “;A Chorus Line”; than the actual feature film of the production, made in the '80s.

Next time you whine about the sightlines from your seat at the theater, consider the tremendous sacrifices made by those onstage. All they want is applause, after all.


Tam cherishes isle perspective

Jason Tam has one key scene in “;Every Little Step,”; a documentary about the audition process for Broadway's revival of “;A Chorus Line,”; but it's by far the most indelible and evocative of the entire movie.

One gets the impression that this is just the beginning for a hard-working actor—he's played Markko Rivera on “;One Life to Live”; since 2007—with plenty of talent. The 2001 Punahou graduate played sports, trained with 24-7 Danceforce and participated in community theater while growing up in Aina Haina. He first landed on Broadway at age 10, when he left Hawaii for six months to perform in “;Les Miserables.”;

After Punahou he studied theater at New York University and later earned the role of Kurt Shoemaker in “;Beyond the Break.”; He returned home to shoot three seasons of the show.

“;That was really cool,”; Tam said from his home in New York. “;I was getting paid to do my first TV show, so it was great training, and to get to come back to Hawaii and work was like my dream job.”;

For “;Every Little Step,”; Tam answered an open casting call. He danced and sang and read for the character of Paul, surviving multiple cuts. Cameras rolled the entire time, capturing every nuance of the arduous audition process over many months. Tam did quite well, earning a coveted Broadway gig and his first feature film credits.

“;I'm so happy with (the movie). It tells the story of performers really well, just like 'A Chorus Line' did 30 years ago when it opened. It's a really great celebration of the trials and tribulations and celebrations that we go through as actors.”;

For now that involves living in New York and working on “;One Life to Live,”; with short breaks for theater performances.

He's also working on a cabaret production and a one-man show.

Through it all, his child-hood in Hawaii has helped him maintain perspective.

“;Being an actor is really hard,”; he said. “;You have to be passionate and love it, because otherwise, what's the point?

“;But at the same time, you have to have other things in your life besides theater that ground you out and make you a real person. Growing up in Hawaii gave that side of the spectrum. It gave me an appreciation for life, the outdoors and hanging out with friends and family.”;

Katherine Nichols, Star-Bulletin