Showbusiness: The Road To Broadway

2007, Movie, NR, 102 mins


While there are many documentaries about Hollywood's inner workings (these days practically every DVD comes with behind-the-scenes and making-of extras), the Broadway community has been shy about committing its creative process to film. There are a number of excellent histories of the theater — BROADWAY: THE GOLDEN AGE, BY THE LEGENDS WHO WERE THERE and PBS' Broadway: The American Musical come immediately to mind. But they are retrospectives: Rather than capturing off-stage drama as it happens, they capture players waxing nostalgic about glories long past. Not so Dori Berinstein's cinematic love letter to what goes on behind the curtain. In addition to being a filmmaker, Berinstein is a theater producer with two Tonys on her mantle, for 2002's Thoroughly Modern Millie and the 2001 Broadway revival of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. During the 2003-2004 season, she decided to make a documentary about the industry she clearly loves. Inspired by William Goldman's classic book The Season, Berinstein began by covering all the attractions opening on the Great White Way within that time frame. Having shot 400-plus hours of film, she found her focus in a quartet of musicals — Avenue Q, Caroline, or Change, Wicked and Taboo — as they evolved, opened and vied for Broadway's top prize.

Luckily for Berinstein, this turned out to be a remarkable Tony race. Avenue Q and Caroline, or Change were edgy, unconventional downtown hits trying their luck uptown. A London transfer, Taboo was written by '80s gender-bending sensation Boy George and imported stateside by Rosie O'Donnell. And Wicked was a $14 million spectacle based on Gregory Maguire's revisionist story of the witches of Oz and bred for Broadway success. Broadway neophytes will get a crash course in the backstories that had insiders buzzing, and while theater junkies won't be surprised by the outcome — who won and who lost, who profited and who folded — knowing that outcome in no way detracts from the film. It's riveting to watch the shows' respective creators work, clash, whine, celebrate and commiserate as the season and their stories unfold. The journey of Avenue Q creators Bobby Lopez and Jeff Marx, who literally came out of nowhere, is particularly thrilling and acts as the centerpiece. In addition to the main narrative, Berinstein gives a nice overview of the industry by including interviews with influential (if not always prophetic) critics, plus actors like Tony-winner Alan Cumming (her coproducer), and footage of the annual passing of the Gypsy Robe, a good-luck ritual lovingly passed down through generations of chorus dancers and singers familiarly known as "gypsies." leave a comment --Raven Snook

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