Thursday, October 18, 2007

ShowBusiness: The Road to Broadway

I watched "ShowBusiness: The Road to Broadway" the other night, and from that first shot of Times Square, I was hooked. I love seeing Broadway at night, all lit up and swirling with activity.

Before I became an avid theatergoer, I'd heard of tryouts, of course, but I didn't realize everything that went into bringing a show from the page to the stage. I had to learn a new vocabulary of readings, workshops, two-handers and tuners, gypsy robes and ghost lights. (Not to mention premium seating!)

There are many striking images in the documentary that deal with the creative process, with the traditions and sense of community that make Broadway unique.

Jeanine Tesori and Tony Kushner sit by themselves at the piano, working on the music and lyrics for "Caroline or Change". Then, on the day Tony nominations are announced, the marketing team for "Wicked" is gathered around a large conference table. There's an obvious sense of joy and relief when it receives a best-musical nomination. Somehow, each image seems entirely appropriate. You get a sense of how putting on a show is both a solitary and a group process.

Something else I really enjoyed about "ShowBusiness" is the way it conveys the sense of community that exists among performers and between performers and their fans. Whether it's fans of Wicked lining up to buy souvenirs or fans of "Taboo" getting weepy after it was announced that the show would close after only three months, you get a sense of the passion involved.

One comment that really struck a chord with me was from Raul Esparza, who was then starring in "Taboo." He talked about how, at 8 o'clock, a different story is being told in every Broadway theater. The stories, the locations and eras where they take place, are all different. That's one of the things I love best about going to the theater in New York: all of those choices. You can travel to so many places in the space of 10 blocks.

One thing that surprised me was the negative critical reaction toward "Wicked." What didn't the critics get about it? It's so funny and clever and poignant, and the score is wonderful. While I've never seen "Avenue Q," just from the snippets of music I've heard, I can't believe it won the Tony over "Wicked."

One thing that gave me pause was the difficulty "Caroline, or Change" had in finding an audience despite some great critical reception. While I love musicals with a pop sound, like "Mamma Mia!" "Wicked" and "Hairspray," I want there to be a place for shows like "Caroline, or Change." Whether there'll be room for both in the future seems to be an open question.


Emily said...

I loved ShowBusiness and was lucky enough to see it on the big screen. Thanks for bringing to light Raul Esparza's quote, that's a good one.

Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, I will forever be flummoxed by Wicked's loss to Avenue Q. While the latter offers plenty of sharp wit, it's not for the ages in the longlasting way Wicked is.

Glad you enjoyed and got so much out of this great documentary. It's still in my DVD player!

Esther said...

Thanks for the comment Emily! I thought Raul Esparza's quote was great. It really speaks to how I feel about visiting Broadway, seeing all those marquees. In July, I saw seven shows in five days, and if I'd had more time, there were at least another half-dozen I wanted to see. It is kind of cool to think that 8 p.m. all of those theaters are filled with people listening to those very different stories. And I bet ShowBusiness looked great on the big screen!

Esther said...

And if you haven't seen the PBS series "Broadway: The American Musical," you should certainly check it out!

Esther said...

Steve, you are right about "Wicked" being a musical for the ages, as well as for all ages! And "ShowBusiness" is a great documentary. It really gives you a sense of what it takes to bring a show to Broadway, of the passion on the part of the artists, the fans, and even the critics.