Tuesday, October 16, 2007

ShowBusiness: Year In The Life Of Broadway

ShowBusiness: Year In The Life Of Broadway

Does all the talk of labor woes on the Great White Way have you already searching out an appropriate substitute should the shows go dark? If so, there's a new DVD that may be just the ticket.

Whether it’s the cold depths of the winter doldrums or the soaring heights of a Broadway opening night, “ShowBusiness: The Road To Broadway” packs it all in. (I was provided with a special advance screener.)

This new documentary film by Dori Berinstein follows the backstage drama of four of the most talked about shows from the 2003-04 Theatrical Season -- Avenue Q, Caroline, Or Change, Taboo and Wicked -- from inception to openings and ensuing critical reactions to Tony night. A Broadway producer herself, Berinstein was afforded considerable backstage access to capture all the highs and lows in one remarkable package.

One of my favorite recurring segments in this 104-minute documentary (along with more than an hour of excellent extras) is the kibitzing of Broadway critics and columnists -- including New York Post's Michael Riedel, former Variety critic Charles Isherwood and Newsday's Linda Winer, among others -- who gather to dish on which shows they think will make it, as well as those they think will flop. Most amusing is how flat-out wrong Riedel is about the prospects for both Avenue Q ("Going for an audience that doesn't exist") and Wicked ("It has a lot of problems"). There's even a couple cameos by none other than the great Ben Brantley of The New York Times.

The documentary made me lament never having seen Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori's Caroline, Or Change. Through the unfiltered access, the viewer gets an inside look at their painstaking effort to get it just right. And to see its extremely animated, ardent director George C. Wolfe is worth the price of the DVD alone, especially in tenderly admonishing one of his young actors to be more genuine by saying, "That moment is almost dangerously perilously close to being so incredibly inauthentic that it’s frightening.”

On the flip side, the juvenile nature of Avenue Q is exposed, including the contempt between librettist Jeff Whitty and the scoring duo who came up with the concept back in 1999 (beginning as a "million dollar idea" for television), Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez. There's a revelation on how cavalier they were in writing their work, especially in comparison to the angst Kuschner and Tesori clearly felt in striving to hit just the right note.

Yet when Marx and Lopez realize their success is for real, you can’t help but be moved. There's an especially cute moment where they ask Boy George for a photo (George refuses), but their excitement is palpable pondering how they’ll be up against him for a Tony (guess who wins?).

Boy George delivers one of the most impassioned critiques within the entire documentary: “The critics, the people that are supposed to be championing, you know sort of holding up this great artform are the people that are destroying it. That’s the biggest irony of all you know. It’s like don’t go on about how we must save this you know valuable artform and then do everything you can to make it fail. Because if you’d stop shows like Taboo being successful or just being on Broadway all you’re ever going to have is Andrew Lloyd Webber for the rest of your lives.”

Fortunately for audiences, Berinstein's wonderful documentary preserves the revered and the panned for generations to see how four very different shows made their way to the Great White Way. For anyone who loves theatre, or even simply has one favorite among these four primary shows, this documentary delivers.

The DVD of "ShowBusiness: The Road To Broadway" is available starting today.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 16 October, 2007, Blogger Esther said...

Steve, I'm really looking forward to this. As you know, I love "Wicked," so I'm excited about getting an in-depth look at its journey to Broadway. (Which I got a bit of on the PBS series). I haven't seen any of the other three shows, but like you, I wish I'd seen "Caroline, or Change." I'm really interested in what Tony Kushner has to say about the relationship between blacks and Jews in the South against a backdrop of the civil rights movement. Plus, an impassioned crtique from Boy George and a chance to hear from Michael Riedel! This documentary sounds like a great companion to "Broadway: the American Musical."

At 16 October, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, To me, nothing compares to that incredible, rich PBS documentary you mentioned. But for a nice recent slice of Broadway, "ShowBusiness" strikes just the right chord!

At 17 October, 2007, Anonymous e said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again: "Caroline, or Change" is in my top five musicals of all time. I wish the Alliance would do it, but I'm sure they're afraid of what happened on Broadway: "Fabulous Musical Fails to Find Audience, Becomes Financial Flop."


At 17 October, 2007, Blogger Esther said...

It's great! I just finished watching. It really gives you a sense of the lengthy, risky process in bringing a show to Broadway, including the readings, the workshops. Also, you get a great sense of the difference in scale, how Wicked has this lengthy out-of-town tryout, then more time to refine the show before it opened on Broadway. Not every show has the resources to do that.

That opening shot of Times Square is pretty thrilling! And you're right about George Wolfe. He has the most animated hands I've ever seen!

For me, one comment that especially struck a chord was Raul Esparza talking about how at 8 o'clock, there are all these different stories being told on Broadway - different eras, different themes, all being told at the same time. There's just something exhilarating about all of those choices.

I also thought it was pretty poignant listening to Robert Lopez talk to his parents after being nominated for a Tony. And watching Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori sitting alone at the piano trying to get it right.

I can't believe Wicked didn't win best musical. Everytime I listen to that music, I just adore it. I can't believe it got such a negative response from the critics. Not that it matters now, I guess! How can they call it "preachy?" I think it's got a great message.

At 17 October, 2007, Blogger Esther said...

And I just realized that Euan Morton is in Cyrano! Yay!!! I'm even more excited about seeing it!

At 18 October, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther - Watching Euan Morton makes me hope that great things come his way. He's incredibly talented and genuine.

E - I just wish I could have seen Caroline, Or Change. I'm really beating myself up over not having seen it on Broadway.


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