It's a Hard Knock Life

While I love watching a good stage musical, I have always been more fascinated by the view behind-the-scenes. From the initial writing and composing to the auditions, rehearsals, staging, set and lighting design, and costuming, a Broadway production involves a lot of people spending a lot of time together for months on end, creating drama well before the curtain rises. Two recent documentaries did a brilliant job of bringing me backstage.

If you were a 9-year-old girl sometime between 1977 and 1983, the odds are good that you wanted to be an orphan. The musical Annie was a huge hit on Broadway, plus there were four touring companies and a film version; that’s a lot of little girls getting paid to sing and dance. The documentary Life After Tomorrow revisits those “orphans” 30 years later to get their firsthand accounts of sudden fame, stage parents, rehearsals, rivalry, and the devastation of puberty when you are a child actor. Those interviewed include some still-famous women (actress Sarah Jessica Parker, MSNBC anchor Dara Brown) and others who have distanced themselves from show business as much as possible. The film ends with some sweet and funny reunions where the now all-grown-up women find that they remember much of their choreography 25 years after their last performances.

Every Little Step is a documentary about the auditions for the 2006 Broadway revival of A Chorus Line, the celebrated musical about auditioning for a Broadway musical. (Meta, anyone?) We get to know some of the young men and women moving through the increasingly difficult process; interspersed with their stories are interviews with, and footage of some of the original participants in the workshops that led to the writing of the play. Like the play itself, this film is heart-wrenching, suspenseful, and hysterical.

For a behind-the-scenes look at plays that were not so successful, check out Kate’s entry on Broadway flops on the library’s Furthermore... blog.