So I brought some baggage with me when I
attended the screening of the documentary
SHOWBUSINESS: THE ROAD TO BROADWAY,
produced and directed by Dori Berinstein.
Berinstein knows the territory well, having
produced over ten Broadway productions.
Inspired by William Goldman's now classic booK
The Season: A Candid Look at Broadway, which
profiled the 1967-68 theater season, the
filmmaker decided to concentrate on the
2003-04 season. Having been granted access to
four musicals,
Avenue Q, Caroline, or Change,
Taboo, and Wicked, Berinstein follows the
productions through various stages from
rehearsals to opening nights to the annual
Tony® Awards.

Berinstein also includes comments from various
critics and journalist who cover the theater,
most notably Michael Riedel of the
New York
Post
, whose bitchy column reflects his own
personality, Linda Winer, Jacques le Sourd,
Patrick Pacheco, Ben Brantley (the chief critic of
The New York Times), Charles Isherwood (then
at
Variety) and John Lahr.

She also includes some wonderful backstage
moments from other shows that are not in the
forefront, such as the tradition of the Gypsy
Robe -- what started out as something of a lark
but which has become codified in a formal
ceremony held on a show's opening night.


This is a film
that will
appeal to
anyone who
is an
aficionado of
the theater
or of show
music. In
some ways it
is a terrific
companion
piece to Rick
McKay's
BROADWAY,
THE GOLDEN
AGE, as it
shows that
even despite
the high costs
and the various
changes that
have infiltrated the genre, there are still many
people for whom Broadway remains the
pinnacle.  

SHOWBUSINESS  shows the backstage dramas
that some shows undergo, the problems some
actors face (there is a very poignant interview
with actress Tonya Pinkins who candidly
discusses her personal troubles), the surprise of
novices (like Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx,
responsible for the score of
Avenue Q, a show
that feature puppets singing songs that might
have been written for a grown-up version of

"Sesame Street."
        

When I was a child, I harbored dreams of
working in the theater. It was my intention to
study in college and then head to the Big Apple
and try my luck. Well, the Fates had other
ideas and after many detours, when I did finally
arrive in Manhattan, the closest I got was an
association with the American Theatre Wing,
the organization that founded the Tony®
Awards. I began as a volunteer there and
eventually moved up to a part-time position.
There were great perks in those days as we
often got free tickets to shows (sometimes in
previews, sometimes after they opened). At the
same time, I took playwriting classes and
worked with a few smaller companies, having a
couple of things produced in staged readings.
Then, the Fates again interceded and I had to
take a paying gig that took me away from the
stage. And while I don't attend the theater
much any more -- the prices are ridiculously
high and the last few shows I have seen proved
SHOWBUSINESS:
THE ROAD TO BROADWAY
© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
The cast of Avenue Q
Tonya Pinkins as Caroline and
Harrison Chad as Noah in
Caroline, or Change

Photo by Michal Daniel
Euan Morton as Boy George
and the ensemble of
Taboo
Photo by Joan Marcus
L to R: Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda and Idina Menzel
as Elphaba at their opening night curtain call in
WICKED
to be very
disappointing
to say the
least. I am
also not a big
fan of the
corporate
sponsorships.
When I was
younger, one
person could
still produce
a play or a
show: now it
takes a
virtual army.
And I the old
adage about
"too many
cooks" seems
to me to
apply.
WRESTLING WITH ANGELS, will be aware of
the background for his musical
Caroline, or
Change
, as well as the struggles to move the
show from off-Broadway to Broadway. The but
it did provide a showcase for Ms. Pinkins as
well as Anika Noni Rose (who went on to play
as Lorell in
DREAMGIRLS) and Chandra Wilson
who co-stars in the hit TV series
"Grey's
Anatomy."

Wicked, adapted from Gregory Maguire's novel
which provided the Wicked Witch of the West
from L. Frank Baum's Oz stories with a back
story, was perhaps the biggest show to open
that season. Budgeted at $14 million, most of
which was seen on stage in the lavish scenery
and costumes, the musical was not a surefire
thing. After a rocky tryout on the West Coast,
the creators, including Stephen Schwartz
(
Pippin, Godspell) and Winnie Holzman, went
back to work tightening and refining the show.
Although some critics derided the production,
Wicked found an audience and emerged as the
front-runner for the big prize the Antoinette
Perry Award for Best Musical. (In a stunning
upset, the award would go to
Avenue Q.
Berinstein's film doesn't touch on the
controversy surrounding the pre-award
campaigning that perhaps led to that upset.
The producers of
Avenue Q staged a marketing
campaign that would have done the Weinsteins
of Miramax proud, suggesting to those who
decide on the awards to "vote your heart."
There was also talk that the road producers
were targeted. Since
Wicked was thought to be
able to tour win or lose, the Best Musical prize
for
Avenue Q would benefit that show more.
The tantalizing prospect of presenting a winner
on tour and the David versus Goliath aspect of
the contest added another layer. What the
voters didn't know was that there was already a
deal in the works to present
Avenue Q in Las
Vegas bypassing a national tour. Some voters
later claimed to have been duped. The national
tour of the show began in 2007.)

Perhaps the biggest disappointment that
season was
Taboo, the musical about Boy
George that had been a hit in London. Rosie
O'Donnell single-handedly produced the
Broadway edition. A novice, the comedian/talk
show host failed to take into consideration the
backbiting gossip that floods Broadway (some
of it egged on by people like Michael Riedel),
the
message boards at places like Talkin'
Broadway, and the egos of the creative team
involved (including some of the actors). Instead
of being able to work in relative quiet, the show
was subjected to the harsh glare and the
tabloids took glee and delight in reporting every
minor squabble. It also didn't help that
O'Donnell was involved in a lawsuit over her
failed magazine that drew her attention away
from the show. What might have developed
into a cult hit with potential crossover appeal
instead suffered an ignoble end with the show's
closing prematurely.

Berinstein's film covers all this and more and it
does so with an insider's knowledge married
with a fan's appreciation.
SHOWBUSINESS
strikes the right balance and provides a slick
and enjoyable peek backstage. If there are
some flaws (the filmmakers were not given
access to one of the season's bigger hits --
The
Boy from Oz
featuring Hugh Jackman as Peter
Allen), but overlooking those small things, the
movie is enjoyable and informative. Anyone
who appreciates theater and musicals will adore
this film. Those unfamiliar with those genres
may learn something and perhaps may find
themselves becoming fans.


Rating:               B+
MPAA Rating:       PG for language and
                         some sexual
                         references
Running time:      101 mins.