There's No Business Like . .

Documentary Captures Four Broadway Shows

Once upon a Broadway season there were a pair of singing witches, a gaggle of chatty puppets, a talk show host morphing into a Broadway producer and a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright aiming to hit his second home run out of the park.

The Season was 2003-2004, and the players, as detailed above were: Glinda and Elphaba from the $14 million musical "Wicked;"  an innovative little show called  "Avenue Q;"  Rosie O'Donnell, who, with deep pockets, set out transfer an avante garde musical called "Taboo" from London to Broadway; and Tony Kirshner, who was following the enormous success of "Angels in America" with a new musical called "Caroline, Or Change."

The behind-the-scenes creation of these four shows is explored in producer-director Dori Berinstein's feature length documentary, "Show Business: The Road To Broadway," opening June 8 at the Kendall Square Cinema. (At left, that's Boy George and Rosie O'Donnell at a press event for "Taboo.")

From casting through rehearsals, previews, opening night, the announcement of Tony nominations and the presentation of the actual Tony Awards, "Show Business" provides a never-before-seen look at the backstage highs, lows and inner workings of Broadway musicals. 

Berinstein brought to the project multiple credits as a Broadway producer (“Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “The Crucible” with Liam Neeson; “Fool Moon” with Bill Irwin and David Shiner, “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” starring Gary Sinise; David Henry Hwang’s “Golden Child”  and this season's "Legally Blonde" ).  With those impressive credits on her side, she received unprecedented cooperation from the theater community. The result is the ultimate backstage story of Broadway.

Filming every show that opened during the season, she describes the year as a roller coaster with no way to predict where anything was heading.  Consequently, she captured everything.  Editing, as a result, was a massive project.  And in the end, she edited the material down to focus on four shows.

The 2003-2004 season also offered: the mega-success of Hugh Jackman in "The Boy From Oz," the musical-biography of composer, showman and fellow Australian, Peter Allen;  a fourth Tony Award for Audra McDonald; the stunning performance by Jefferson Mays, playing more than 20 roles in the one-man show "I Am My Own Wife;" the London transfer of the colorful "Bombay Dreams," and Sean Combs on stage in the revival of “A Raisin in the Sun.”

In hindsight, it's interesting to note how the advance word on the Big Four varied from their ultimate fates.  Financed for $14 million, "Wicked" was the Big Buck entry of the season. (At left are Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenowith during a rehearsal.) However, it did NOT snatch the Best Musical Tony. And while audiences embraced it whole heartedly, the critics were mixed on its attributes. Suddenly, "Avenue Q," a bizarre little puppet show that proved it actually had heart, became the show to beat.  

The musical that DID charm the critics, "Caroline, Or Change," never found its audience and closed prematurely after struggling through a short run.   And the healthy financing of Rosie O'Donnell coupled with the hype of Boy George was not enough to make "Taboo" fly.

Almost 400 interviews was conducted for the film, from producers to actors, critics, publicists and marketing gurus.  Berinstein got them all to talk about their work, on the record, knowing that theater people are proud of, and love, what they do."

Of the film's title, Berinstein says the selection underscores the concept that now exists in all areas of the arts. You have people putting on The Show, yet you have to question how much it's going to cost and how much it's going to make."

And the show goes on . . .

-- OnStage Boston




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