Any chance to see a documentary that deals with the inner workings of Broadway musicals is a cause for celebration for many.
“ShowBusiness: The Road to Broadway” is a delight in many respects and a disappointment on other levels. This being her first feature-length movie, filmmaker Dori Berinstein (a three-time Tony-winning Broadway producer with an extensive film and TV producing and directing background) has chosen to cover quite a specific subject.
Over the course of one season, 2003-04, “ShowBusiness” follows four high-profile productions that would eventually become Tony nominees for Best Musical: the extravagant “Wicked”; the Rosie O’Donnell/Boy George collaboration, “Taboo”; the Tony Kushner/Jeanine Tesori musical, “Caroline, or Change”; and the adult puppet musical, “Avenue Q.”
We are taken inside the workings of these shows, from their rehearsals for their prospective Broadway runs to the Tony Awards, and six months after that. With seemingly full access to the creative teams (composers, lyricists, writers, producers and actors), Berinstein shows how these Broadway-tracked musicals get to the stage and the behind-the-scenes machine that keeps them there — or stands by as their demise is bemoaned by many.
The year is broken down to the four seasons. The action is cross cut, featuring early rehearsals, major critics commenting about what they should expect from the shows, recording sessions, and directors in action. The Tony nominations follow, and finally, the actual Tony ceremony, and the winners’ reactions. Six months later, there are updates on how the shows are doing — if they are still running.
I found the section about the tradition of the “Gypsy Robe Ceremony” on opening night truly delicious; the rite involves the cast passing along a patchwork-created garment to the chorus member — “Gypsy” — with the most theatrical credits. I also relished George Wolf’s wonderful comment while directing actors in “Caroline, or Change”: “The aim is to render the writers invisible.”
Yet the film has too many cheesy, ultimately painful, montage sections, which often are combined with simply the wrong choice of Broadway songs from other shows. Another misstep: the inclusion of Alan Cumming as one of the interviewees. While he is one of the producers of the documentary, he wasn’t in any of the productions being featured; his voice doesn’t belong.
Yet I certainly recommend the movie and the support of independent documentaries. Do get a glimpse into the world of the big-time Broadway machine. Life sometimes is a cabaret.
ShowBusiness: The Road to Broadway ***
Starring Alan Cumming, Rosie O’Donnell, Boy George, Tony Kushner, Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth, Jeff Marx, Bobby Lopez, Jeanine Tesori
Directed by Dori Berinstein
Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
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