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Imitating Art, Reflecting Life: Little Edie, Susan Boyle and “A Chorus Line”

Imitating Art, Reflecting Life: Little Edie, Susan Boyle and "A Chorus Line"

Writing about James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo’s “Every Little Step” in today’s New York Times, A.O. Scott likens the documentary to a hall of mirrors. “Life imitates art, art reflects life, and after a while the distinctions threaten, quite pleasantly, to blur altogether.” Scott’s words are appropriate for a week that has seen a striking intersection of singing and dancing on screen. Three of the best things I’ve seen this week capture the dreams of performers.

Not only is today the theatrical opening of a non-fiction adaptation of “A Chorus Line,” but tomorrow will also be the premiere of a made-for-TV movie version of the landmark documentary “Grey Gardens.” Amidst all this, there was the emergence this week of Susan Boyle, the online sensation who seemingly came from nowhere on a British talent show and has become an instant household name.

“Chorus” Dreams

“It’s important because it’s what we go through every day,” proclaims one aspiring Broadway star in Stern and Del Deo’s “Every Little Step,” a winning new doc about casting a revival of “A Chorus Line.” “It’s the truth,” she continues, near the end of the film, after learning her fate in the fierce competition to land a lead role in the musical.

Eight film crews followed some fifty dancers who were aiming to land a lead role in the musical. The competition begins like an early season episode of “American Idol” as the judges, in this case the directors and producers of the revival, watch from orchestra seats in an empty Broadway theater.

In their film, following months of casting, Stern and Del Deo pay homage to the origins of “A Chorus Line,” which began with a bunch of Browdway dancers sitting in a circle late one night in 1974 talking with creator Michael Bennett. During a post-screening Q&A earlier this week at the Paris Theater in New York City, the filmmakers commented that they shot hundreds of hours of footage. Current and former cast members sat in the audience on Monday night watching themselves on screen. While leaving the theater, they seemed quite excited by the end result, with a producer calling the new film the definitive theatrical version of “A Chorus Line.”

Edie Then and Now

Little Edie in a scene from “Grey Gardens”

New York’s aforementioned Paris Theater, still a gem of a place to see a movie in Manhattan, plays an important role in HBO’s upcoming “Grey Gardens.” The theatrical home for the Maysles’ documentary more than thirty years ago, the venue’s red carpet beckons Little Edie (played by Drew Barrymore) and, in this new “Grey Gardens,” its balcony offers the iconic figure a moment in the spotlight at the documentary’s dramatized 1976 premiere. Like Norma Desmond’s demonic dance with the camera at the crescendo of Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Blvd,” the Paris balcony offers Edie a moment back in a spotlight that she apparently craved ever since her debutante night just up Fifth Ave. at the Pierre Hotel forty years earlier.

The new “Grey Gardens” starts with the Maysles Brothers shooting the now famous scene featuring Little Edie hamming it up for the camera, dancing in the foyer of her home, Grey Gardens, twirling an American flag, hoping to seduce David Maysles. She can’t hide her crush on him and wonders where he’s been all her life. Other memorable scenes from the doc are recreated, but even more insightful are the detailed flashbacks to Edie’s glory days in Manhattan in the ’30s.

If there was a complaint that Little Edie had with the original documentary, Al Maysles told indieWIRE three years ago, it was that the film didn’t have enough singing and dancing. Not so with the HBO version, directed by Michael Sucsy. Barrymore (as Little Edie) and Jessica Lange (as Big Edie) sing and dance a number of times in the TV movie. However they are performing for an audience mostly comprised of their beloved cats.

Scottish Sensation

Dissed as an “unkempt cat-lady-person” by Movieline yesterday, sudden Scottish sensation Susan Boyle subverted expectations in her shining moment this week on “Britain’s Got Talent.” Looking a bit like an Edie Beale, the UK audience no doubt expected little from her, as evidence in the highly-produced clip of her TV debut that has become an Internet phenomenon this week. At 47, Boyle admits on camera to never having been kissed before belting out “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables in front of Simon Cowell and other judges, and earns an emotional standing ovation for her soaring performance. Just one of the seven minute clips of her performance on YouTube has been viewed 17 million times in less than a week.

Patti LuPone, who popularized the song on Broadway told CBS’ “Early Show” that she started to cry when she saw the clip, according to an LA Times story about Boyle.

Meanwhile, Access Hollywood found another angle. Cornering “Grey Gardens” star Drew Barrymore at the Los Angeles premiere of the film last night, they asked the actress about the Scottish sensation. Noting that Barrymore played a thirty year old virgin in “Never Been Kissed,” Access asked her who Boyle should smooch first.

“Well who am I – after [47] years of a life decision to tell her who she should kiss,” Barrymore told the TV tabloid show, “But I hope it’s a good one!”

“Every Little Step” opens in select theaters today.

“Grey Gardens” debuts on HBO tomorrow night.

Susan Boyle’s TV debut is available on YouTube.

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