DATELINE: One Singular Omission!
The little documentary made about a revival of A Chorus Lineis so warped by time and death that it is about as inaccurate as you can find when all the principals are long gone. Every Little Step is really Every Big Omission.
Three of the creative forces behind the great musical play were Michael Bennett, Nick Dante, and James Kirkwood. They all died way too soon: and the survivors are allies of Michael Bennett (Marvin Hamlisch, Donna McKechnie, and Bob Avian). So, you have a slightly skewed presentation of the past.
I knew Jim Kirkwood—and he has been cut out of this film and you’d never know he had any role whatsoever for A Chorus Line (which happened to win him a Tony for writing and a Pulitzer Prize for good measure).
Cutting out Kirkwood from credit began while he was still alive. I can recall his complaint about how “hurtful” all this was—and he admitted to me he did have a physical altercation with Michael Bennett. I cannot imagine what that looked like—as Jim often advised me to “Kick’em in the nuts” to start and end any fight instantly.
Jim was proud of his contribution to A Chorus Line and even put the logo on his letterhead until someone complained to him about his “colossal ego.” He removed the line of dancers and went with plain stationery. I told him to ignore such idiots, but he was overly sensitive.
This documentary would send him up to the roof and we might never get him down.
A great deal is made of the 12 hours of tapes of dancers’ interviews that served as backbone of the libretto. Bennett recorded this one snowy December night in the 1970s, but Kirkwood insisted to me he never listened to a single tape. He read a transcript and had to give structure and order to it. He pointedly said to me, “There were no tapes. I never heard any tapes.”
What intrigued him was his show biz background and literary themes of his life fit right into the storyline. If you read his works, you find every concept in A Chorus Line in books he wrote a decade earlier, from the Big Joker in the Sky concept of the “Director” to small details.
Even the biggest decision to change the ending to improve the book of the show is not given to Jim Kirkwood. It is entirely the idea of Michael Bennett. At the 1976 Tony Awards, Bennett gave a speech in which Kirkwood is mentioned as he gives “thanks to Jimmy.”
The closing credits mention permission of the James Kirkwood Trust, but never is he mentioned within the documentary. Every Big Omission indeed. As a friend of Jim Kirkwood, I am furious about this distorted movie.
Dr. William Russo is author of Riding James Kirkwood’s Pony.