Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Dori Berinstein - The SOB Interview

Dori Berinstein - The SOB Interview

In introducing my very first Steve On Broadway (SOB) Interview, I'm pleased to present my Q & A with Broadway producer, documentary director and three time Tony Award winner Dori Berinstein (pictured in photo by Anita and Steve Shevett).

My questions touched on everything from her superb "ShowBusiness: The Road To Broadway" documentary film (now available on DVD) to the possible stagehands strike to her work with Legally Blonde.

In turn, she provided some terrific, candid comments, including on the one Broadway show that did not grant her access, why New York Post's Michael Riedel needs to find new friends, plans for taking Legally Blonde on tour and to London, and other intriguing irons she currently has stoking in the fire.

Here's Dori Berinstein - The SOB Interview:

Steve On Broadway (SOB): “ShowBusiness: The Road To Broadway” is clearly a labor of love. I enjoyed it so much, I viewed it twice. How long had this documentary been percolating and what was your inspiration?

Dori Berinstein: Thank you! I loved every second making the film.

I read William Goldman's extraordinary book, "The Season," about the 1968 Broadway season behind-the-curtain, when I was in college. I was completely captivated. After years of dreaming about one day producing Broadway shows, I knew then, that I also wanted to bring that vibrant, creative, passionate and insular world to life on film.

SOB: I’ve previously described your documentary as a year in the life of Broadway. Was that your original vision?

DB: I wanted to capture a Broadway season inside out. Of course, so much happens over the course of a year. It's impossible to anticipate which shows will hit and which will struggle. I knew going in that our specific story would unfold as the season progressed.

SOB: The 2003-04 Theatrical Season you chronicled coincided with the last chapter of the PBS documentary, “Broadway: The American Musical.” Did that documentary inform any of your decisions going into “ShowBusiness” on where to focus?

DB: Not at all.

I know the team behind "Broadway: The American Musical." They're tremendous.

Our projects, though, we're entirely different.

Michael Kantor aspired to chronicle the Broadway musical throughout the 20th century for television. His epic work spanned 6-parts and relied heavily on archival footage, still photos, on-camera interviews, etcetera.

"ShowBusiness," a feature film, is far more specific and personal. We dove into the dramatic lives of a handful of performers, creators, producers, etcetera ... behind-the-curtain during the course of a specific year on Broadway. We were committed to going wherever our story took us. Choices made by other projects were irrelevant.

SOB: While you devote time to virtually all the major shows of Broadway’s 2003-04 season, you focus primarily on four major musicals of the year -- Avenue Q; Caroline, Or Change, Taboo and Wicked -- why these?

DB: Focusing our storytelling on these four shows was an excruciating task. There were so many extraordinary stories to tell about the season. Editors Richard Hankin and Adam Zucker were tremendous partners creatively. Ultimately, we focused in on Avenue Q, Caroline, Taboo and Wicked for three primary reasons:

One, each show had such a unique "road to Broadway," and each show was jam-packed with extraordinary talent, on stage and behind-the-curtain.

Two, the personal stories -- Jeff and Bobby, Euan, Tonya....etcetera -- elevated our story, we believe, making it much more than a "Broadway" film. We wanted our audience, whether or not they were fans of theatre, to get lost in their roller coaster experiences over the course of the year.

Three, we liked the way these four stories could be interwoven and leave our audience with a sense of what it takes to launch and run a show on Broadway.

We could have made the same film with four plays from that season. It was an extremely difficult choice.

SOB: You offer plenty of drama, whether it’s the tensions among the Avenue Q team or Euan Morton discussing his resident alien status or even just showcasing the bitter cold winter months’ impact on Broadway. How were you able to gain such incredible access from such a wide range of shows and talent?

DB: The Broadway community ... the actors ... the producers ... the publicists ... everyone ... was extraordinary. I am deeply grateful.

The Broadway Unions and Guilds and AFTRA supported our project from the get go, making it all possible.

I imagine being an "insider" ... a Broadway producer for nearly 15 years, helped tremendously. The community knew I shared a deep love of theatre, and while I wanted to paint an honest, accurate picture -- I wasn't looking at all to make anyone or any show look bad.

SOB: Conspicuously absent from your film was Hugh Jackman’s Tony vehicle The Boy From Oz. Was that a conscious decision?

DB: I would have loved to capture the creative evolution of The Boy from Oz. There were 37 show that season. The Boy From Oz was the only show that denied us access.

SOB: Which of these shows did you have a chance to personally see in their early stages, and which do you believe ultimately enjoyed the greatest metamorphosis?

DB: I had the great good fortune to see each of the shows early on.

Of course, tremendous work was done on Wicked between their out-of-town run in San Francisco and their Broadway launch. You really don't know what you have, no matter how great the book ... the score ... or the cast, until you get a show up on its feet. Not every creative team, though, dives in and makes such radical changes before coming in. The way the show evolved, and the choices that were made, were quite remarkable. The results speak for themselves.

I also tremendously admire the work done to adapt Avenue Q to Broadway. Off-Off Broadway, the show was tremendously intimate. Transferring to a larger venue presented huge challenges. How can that intimacy be preserved in a much larger space? From set design, to staging, to storytelling, incredible work was done to make the transition seamless.

SOB: Of all the shows you featured, did any one become a favorite of yours?

DB: I was so close to each show that season. There was no way to have favorites.

SOB: I loved the kibitzing among the theatre critics and pundits. How difficult was that to accomplish, and was there any reason why Ben Brantley and John Lahr were interviewed apart from the rest?

DB: I was eager for the critic "lunch" to be as organic as possible. This group of critics knows each other. Lunching together, chatting about the season, was very conceivable.

Ben Brantley and John Lahr wouldn't naturally be part of that group. I did feel their perspectives were very important -- Brantley, as the lead theatre critic for the tremendously powerful New York Times and John Lahr, a wonderful writer and great defender of Caroline, Or Change.

SOB: Michael Riedel makes an astute observation in your documentary that “My peers who are not in the theatre do not go to a theatre, it has fallen off their entertainment landscape.” What must live theatre do to get back on that landscape?

DB: Michael needs some new friends!

I think Broadway has come a long way in 5 years. Wicked, Lion King, Beauty And The Beast, in particular, certainly catapulted interest in Broadway by a younger demographic.

Shows like Avenue Q, Rent, Spring Awakening and Legally Blonde also have had, and continue to have, a huge impact on teen and young adult theatre-going.

When I look at the shows now in development for Broadway next year and beyond, I see tremendous diversity ... shows that are sure to bring in audiences of all ages.

SOB: You’re currently represented on Broadway through Legally Blonde. Did you get the box office bounce you were seeking from the MTV experiment?

DB: We are thrilled with the response to Blonde on MTV. The ratings surpassed everyone's expectations and our CD catapulted to #1 on iTunes. Clearly, we're going to benefit from the MTV airing for many years to come. Given the great nationwide response, I suspect we'll continue to see the positive impact of the MTV airing as the Blonde U.S. Tour kicks off late next summer.

SOB: In making this documentary as an accomplished Broadway producer, did you learn anything new that surprised you about the theatrical art form?

DB: When you work on a show as a producer, an actor, a creator ... you're myopically focused. Time is scarce ... you barely know what's happening outside your theatre walls. It was fascinating to see inside each of the shows that season and realize, irregardless of scope ... of pre-promotability ... of talent involved ... that they all shared this fierce passion for what they were doing. The risks, creative and financial were stark, for everyone. It didn't matter if it was a small play or a giant musical. It's that passion, that risk, that commitment to the art that unites the community. It was thrilling to see.

SOB: I’ve been covering the ongoing labor dispute with the stagehands. Any thoughts on how the current impasse can be broken?

DB: Wish I knew! So hoping the dispute can be resolved without a strike.

SOB: What’s next for Dori Berinstein?

DB: I've just completed post production on a new documentary, "Some Assembly Required," about kids competing in a national toy invention competition and am nearing the end of principal photography on another doc, about the New Jersey Nets Senior Hip Hop Dance Team.

For Broadway, several new projects I'm tremendously excited about are in the works. As those brew, focus continues on Legally Blonde in New York, the upcoming U.S. Tour and our launch in London.

SOB: Thanks so much for joining Steve On Broadway (SOB)!

DB: Thank you Steve!

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Related Stories:
ShowBusiness: Year In The Life Of Broadway (October 16, 2007)

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5 Comments:

At 07 November, 2007, Anonymous Clayton said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 07 November, 2007, Blogger Esther said...

Hey Steve:

Great interview! I'm hoping it'll be the first of many.

It's kind of strange that "The Boy From Oz" was the only show to deny her access. I also thought it was interesting that Ben Brantley and Jon Lahr wouldn't normally be part of the critics coffee klatch.

It's interesting, too, what she had to say about airing "Legally Blonde" on MTV. I was thinking about it in terms of the impact on Broadway, but of course, it'll have a much greater impact as the show tours the country.

When I look at what's on Broadway, and what's coming up, I think there is tremendous diversity. It's just like Raul Esparza says in the documentary - at 8 o'clock, there are all these different stories being told.

 
At 07 November, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, Glad you enjoyed the interview. Hopefully, there will be many more to come from other interesting theatre names.

 
At 07 November, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Sorry folks, today was one of those rare days where I felt compelled to delete a comment that was nothing but pure advertising with absolutely nothing to do with theatre.

 
At 15 November, 2007, Blogger RADIO MIDNIGHT said...

Thx for your efforts on this Steve, great interview!

 

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