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There's No Business Like It

By Matt Freeman

As any fan of A Chorus Line or Curtains can tell you, the birth of a new Broadway musical has all the required elements of great theatre. The dramatic appeal of intense confrontations, gigantic obstacles to be overcome, and hopefully, a big song-and-dance finale, extend far beyond Broadway. Television, film and theatre producer Dori Berinstein wanted to create a film that took its audiences on the other side of the curtain to expose them to what really happens on “The Road to Broadway.” The result is a documentary entitled Show Business: The Road to Broadway, that debuted in the spring of 2007.
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“Behind-the-scenes Broadway, to me, is at least as breathtaking, dramatic, intoxicating and complex, as anything you may see on stage,” says Berinstein. “The amount of passion, risk, vision, love, angst and sweat that goes into making any Broadway show -- play or musical...small or massive...is daunting.”

Show Business chronicles the development of four musicals during the 2003-2004 season, culminating at the American Theatre Wing’s 2004 Tony Awards® ceremony. The shows are Avenue Q; Caroline, or Change; Taboo; and Wicked. Starting with footage shot during the summer of 2003, the film takes a rare insider look at cast and creative team interviews, clips of rehearsals and opening nights, and spots of musical numbers. The action is punctuated by filmed conversations among some of the leading critics in the New York theatre scene. As the pundits predict success or failure for the four shows and others that open during the Broadway season, it becomes very clear what each show sees as its ultimate goal: the 2004 Tony Award for Best Musical.

As Ms. Berinstein puts it, “Given the Tony Awards are such a spectacular, celebratory, exhilarating culmination to any and every Broadway season, it was essential to include the event in our film.”

As the film progresses towards the spring of 2004, the tension surrounding the announcements of Tony nominations is overwhelming. The importance of what many consider the top prize for any Broadway show is evident in the reactions of the shows’ creators as they watch the nominations announcement on television. Fortunately, the four Show Business musicals were blessed with multiple nominations in performance, writing, and design categories. Taboo had already ended its Broadway run and was looking to be remembered by the nominating committee. Three of the four (all but Taboo) would be competing against one another and the Peter Allen musical, Boy from Oz, for the 2004 Best Musical Tony Award. The competition was on, and the shows were all eager to hear their name called out on Tony night.

The climax of the film is the 2004 Tony ceremony, and the excitement builds as the different shows travel to Radio City Music Hall in preparation for the most glamorous event of the Broadway season. Meanwhile, the press room fills with journalists from all over the country, waiting to report the wins. Some make last-minute prophecies to Ms. Berinstein and her crew.

The first captured win of the night is for Jeff Whitty’s book to Avenue Q, followed by another Q win for Best Original Score. As the Tony ceremony unfolds, there is confusion in the press room: Does the small puppet musical have a chance of winning the grand prize over Wicked, the bigger, Hollywood-backed Wizard of Oz prequel? Finally, Sarah Jessica Parker and Nathan Lane take the Radio City stage to answer the question that had been going through everyone’s minds since the beginning of the season. First, Ms. Parker recaps the four nominated shows and then Mr. Lane opens the envelope…Avenue Q wins the 2004 Tony for Best Musical. Radio City is on its feet as the Broadway season comes to a joyous end for performers, producers, creators, and puppets.

But what does this mean for the other musicals? The last segment of the movie captures the shows six months following the Tony Awards. Taboo, which did not receive any Tonys, had already closed, despite developing an enthusiastic following. Caroline, or Change, which earned a Tony win for Anika Noni Rose (seen more recently in the Dreamgirls film) as Best Featured Actress in a Musical, closed at the end of August. Wicked picked up three Tonys, including honors for one of its two leading ladies, Idina Menzel. Avenue Q and Wicked are still running on Broadway; Avenue Q is now also playing in London, and Wicked is a certified mega-hit with several national and international companies.

So, while the silver Tony medallion may be the ultimate prize on Broadway, one can never be certain whom she will choose as the winner. On Broadway, the Tonys are the top, but getting there is a matter of Show Business. And the film Show Business is the ultimate look at the behind-the-scenes drama of Broadway at its most exciting.

Revised Thursday, 20 April, 2017

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