For those not privy to the often-maddening hoopla that makes up backstage experiences of a Broadway show, "ShowBusiness: The Road to Broadway" is the documentary to brush up with. In fact, the lessons learned in this Dori Berinstein film could easily school even the most seasoned of stage veterans.
And that main lesson learned… be wary of the most sneaky of theatre people, those often suspicious and occasionally venomous critics. Hey wait a minute, does that include me?
"ShowBusiness" follows four hotly discussed musicals during the 2003-2004 Broadway season, "Wicked," "Avenue Q," "Caroline, or Change" and "Taboo," as they develop from a fledgling workshop production into Tony Award contender.
This frequently hilarious peek behind the curtains of Broadway is sure to play strong amongst theatergoers, from the geeked out "RENTheads" to the business-minded power players. The only glaring issue to be raised with "ShowBusiness" is the untimely manner in which it is being rolled out, as it focuses entirely on a season long in the past. Granted, two of the four-featured musicals are still going strong in New York and around the world, but the anticipation of that "win" at the Tony's is anything but nail biting.
Many a familiar faces, at least to those that even remotely follow theatre, make a cameo appearance throughout the film, giving their opinions of the whole theatrical process along the way. One such talent, Alan Cumming ("Cabaret"), is noticeably weaved into the narrative, which is actually a result of his originally being tapped to narrate all of "ShowBusiness." Berinstein promises much of the footage of Cumming will make its way onto the DVD, scheduled to be released this Fall.
Perhaps the most enjoyable bunch to appear in the documentary is made up of those oh-so-loveable theatre critics and columnists. All the heavyweights are here, including Ben Brantley (The New York Times), Charles Isherwood (then with Variety), John Lahr (The New Yorker), Jacque le Sourd (Gannett News), Linda Winer (Newsday) and perhaps the most despised of them all, Michael Riedel (New York Post). Riedel often makes headlines himself as the gossip hound of Broadway. Most of the scenes involving this snarky bunch take place in a local restaurant, trading often, well, critical opinions of the four musicals at hand.
Berinstein deserves immense credit for her ability to garner such access to the Great White Way, getting some immensely balanced and thoughtful insight from nearly all aspects of live theatre. Much of "ShowBusiness" deals with the travails of building a high-profile musical, and in the instance of "Taboo," confronting tabloid rumors and negative press coverage of backstage antics before finally resulting in an early shuttering.
Rosie O'Donnell, the often controversial television host and Broadway producer, takes center stage at one point of the film for her alleged shenanigans and all around difficulty to work with, which is not much unlike her current struggles with the ladies of ABC's "The View."
Unfortunately, not even extremely devoted fans were able to save "Taboo" from failing, though not without garnering a handful of Tony nominations. And, as to be expected, "ShowBusiness" is able to colorfully paint the critics as the ultimate villains in the fate of this musical.
Of course, the show that was, and remains to be, the most buzzed about, is "Wicked," which thankfully Berinstein had the foresight, or maybe just luck, to follow from an out-of-town San Francisco tryout to its Broadway incarnation, as the vast coverage it gets in her film is certain to attract many a fans to their local movie houses. That is if this great documentary gets a well-deserved rollout. More than likely, it will have a larger following once it makes to DVD.
"ShowBusiness" does have all the requisite parts of a great drama, villains in the form of a critic, the underdog struggle via "Taboo," the popular character with "Wicked" and of course the climatic battle as "Avenue Q" usurps the assumed thrown of the Stephen Schwartz musical snagging the coveted Best Musical Tony Award.
Much of the "Avenue Q" path followed in the film is amusing, as is the musical, with composers-lyricists Bobby Lopez and Jeff Marx tracked as they create the hysterical and witty puppet fest. Brantley is shown expressing his surprise at liking the most unlikely of season offerings, while the more popular consensus amongst the Broadway "butchers" is the questionable market for such a production. Shows what they knew.
From oddly lurid stage-door smoking experiences with "Taboo's" Boy George, to the joyous Gypsy Robe ceremony traditions and a money hungry marketing meeting following "Wicked's" ten Tony nominations, "ShowBusiness" is a wild ride of energetic highs and truly depressing lows, giving a fascinating insiders look at the magic of Broadway.
"ShowBusiness" is set to rollout first in New York May 11, with a staggered limited release making stops in major cities across the U.S. For more information visit www.showbusiness-themovie.com.