Jewish Journal

The ‘Show’ behind the show

by Shoshana Lewin-Fischer

Posted on May. 24, 2007 at 8:00 pm

Tony nominee Stephanie d'Abruzzo and her Kate Monster (Avenue Q)

Tony nominee Stephanie d'Abruzzo and her Kate Monster (Avenue Q)

Irving Berlin was right on the money when he wrote about life on Broadway: "
Even with a turkey that you know will fold, you may be stranded out in the cold. Still you wouldn't trade it for a sack of gold."
When the curtain rises on a new production, the audience sees only a fraction of what it takes to put a show together. They don't witness the fights, the number crunching or the lives of actors who count on their role to pay the rent. They see what the backers, directors, producers, crew and actors want them to see: the onstage magic.

The documentary, "ShowBusiness," captures the behind-the-curtain drama of the 2003-2004 Broadway season, illustrating the ups and downs the public isn't privy to - from blockbusters that shine to "turkeys" that crash and burn.

Tony-winning producer Dori Berinstein ("Thoroughly Modern Millie") had no idea how the season would play out when she directed the film, which opens in Los Angeles on June 1.

"I fell in love with theater early," said Berinstein, who was born and grew up in Brentwood. "I had a tremendous desire to bring that world to life in a film. I wish I could say I knew it was going to be a genius year; it just happened."

Berinstein's inspiration also came in the form of William Goldman's book, "The Season," which tracked Broadway shows from 1967 to 1968. Berinstein film, created from 250 hours of footage, is the closest anyone has come in 40 years to following a Broadway season the way Goldman did.

The end result is a remarkable tale of four musicals: "Taboo," a controversial cult favorite that closed after a few months; "Caroline, or Change," a critical favorite that L.A. audiences loved but New York didn't; "Wicked," the lavish record-breaker critics thought would tank, and "Avenue Q," the sleeper hit that no one expected would win the Tony.

The musical-focused format wasn't necessarily what Berinstein had in mind (plays like "Golda's Balcony" and "I Am My Own Wife" also opened that season), but the narrative took shape with the contributions of editors Richard Hankin ("Capturing the Friedmans") and Adam Zuker ("Broadway: The American Musical").

"I wanted it to be a celebration about theater and the incredible talent onstage and behind the curtain," said Berinstein, who is on Broadway this season with the Tony-nominated "Legally Blonde: The Musical." "I wanted it to be really, really honest. It was a particularly brutal season."

The film highlights the ongoing clash between the "show" and "business" aspects: The musical that has to close because it isn't making money, the pure elation from two young creators the morning the Tony nominations come out and the heartbreak when the "sure thing" doesn't win.

As a documentary, "ShowBusiness" doesn't pull its punches. A montage focuses on shows with a short shelf life -- some closed after only one night -- while "Fiddler on the Roof's" "Sunrise, Sunset" plays in the background.

Meanwhile, one of the more ironic moments involves five critics Berinstein assembled at various points during the season. While the quintet dishes at a New York restaurant, they pan the "Wizard of Oz" prequel, "Wicked." Berinstein juxtaposes their comments with footage of the show's growing fanbase backed by the "Wicked" tune, "Popular."

After all her hard work, Berinstein has created something that draws in its audience until the final curtain call. But would she do it again?: "In a flash. I would love to."

"ShowBusiness" runs June 1-8 at The Landmark, 10800 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, visit http://www.showbusiness-themovie.com or http://myspace.com/showbusinessmovie

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