Over the course of my Memorial Day weekend, my dad and I viewed the documentary “ShowBusiness: The Road to Broadway.”
The film, directed by Broadway producer Dori Bernstein, is a look at four shows on Broadway in the 2003-2004 season, “Wicked”, “Avenue Q”, “Taboo”, and “Caroline, or Change”. Of those four shows, only two of them are still running.
Bernstein’s film looks at the shows at all different angles: we see the composers hard at work, the actors rehearsing, the producers fretting, the directors, well, directing; Rosie O’Donnell fawning over “Taboo”, which she produced; Michael Riedel being hated, and the critics discussing the plays.
At the very least, the film gives one a greater appreciation for what goes on into putting on a Broadway musical. Particularly from the creators, as we see Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori working on the music for “Caroline, or Change.” (I recommend you watch the bonus footage; there is an talk with Stephen Schwartz discussing him writing the music for “Wicked” and the numbers being cut out.)
What is also incredible is how much love everyone seems to have for their works, as exhibited in Bernstein’s film. As annoying as O’Donnell’s attitude about “Taboo” is, she clearly cares very much for the show. What does the show mean for those involved? It’s rather mind shattering when Idina Menzel discusses thinking of the kids that send her fan mail to give her motivation to go onstage when she’s fighting a cold.
The commentary on Broadway as a business is given by producers, marketing people, theater owner Rocco Landesman, and the critics (plus Michael Riedel). In fact, the scenes where we see the critics gathered to discuss the shows–those critics being Linda Winer of Newsday, Jacques le Sourd, formerly of Gannett, Patrick Pacheco of the L.A. Times, and Charles Isherwood, then of Variety (this was my second time watching the documentary. The first time I was ill and very confused by it saying that Isherwood is the chief theater critic for Variety. He was the chief theater critic for Variety.)–are rather interesting to watch. Mainly because they make their points and predictions of the shows. Riedel predicted “Avenue Q” to last until January of 2004 because of apparent lack of audience. Although, he poses the question about “Taboo”, which ran for 100 performances, as to who the audience was and gets the response of people who experienced the 80’s drag club scene from Isherwood.
(Also, one of my favorite moments of editing is when talking to a marketer, who’s name I can’t remember, he says “I don’t see the point of that guy at the Post” and there is a quick cut to a shot of Riedel walking down the street talking.)
And as for “Wicked”, which did not open to positive reviews and I personally don’t like that much, Riedel remarks about the fact that it was, and to this day still is, bringing in $1 million a week, “Shows you just what we know.” (The film also talks to John Lahr and Ben Brantley, who do not assemble with the other critics and theater reporters.)
The film zips along quickly, although I’ve never seen a documentary that hasn’t done that, and seems a bit rushed towards the end when we get to the Tony Awards. But ultimately, anyone who has a deep interest in theater, mainly Broadway musicals, should watch the film.