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VIP ACCESS: Three Broadway Documentaries Go Behind-the-Curtain

July 25th, 2012

Every fourth Wednesday of the month, the “VIP Access” column will serve up advice on how to make your theater-going experiences cheaper, easier and more fulfilling with inside scoop from the experts. This month, we’re going behind the curtain to see how Broadway shows really get to opening night…

2006 Broadway Revival of "A Chorus Line". Photo by Paul Kolnik.

It’s July and all is quiet on Broadway.

Or so it seems. Actually, right now in production offices, rehearsal studios and writers’ rooms around New York, the real drama is happening as the 2012-2013 theatrical season takes shape. Big decisions are being made with multi-million dollar investments on the line.

So how do we mere mortals get behind the scenes and find out what’s really happening? (And don’t say, “Watch the first season of Smash on my dvr.” It’s fun but a documentary it is not.) Fire up your netflix subscription and rent these three highly recommended, “warts and all” films about the state of the Broadway art…

Every Little Step (2008) While ostensibly a dual documentary about the making of the original A Chorus Line and its 2006 revival, it really is a smartly conceived remake/reinterpretation of the plot of the musical. The filmmakers get you emotionally invested in a group of hopeful dancers auditioning for the revival and then turn the dramatic screws as dreams are made or dashed. If you want to know what it’s like to be an actor in New York, this is the doc for you. Of course, after watching it, you will thank your lucky stars and garters that you aren’t an actor in New York.

One to Watch: Veteran Broadway trouper Rachelle Rak steals the show and your heart as the tough as nails dancer who, by god, really needs this job.

Show Business: The Road to Broadway (2007) The 2003-2004 Broadway season is rewritten as a grand, gripping sporting event, with four musicals — Wicked, Avenue Q, Caroline, or Change and Taboo — racing to the finish line where Tonys and box office dollars await. Director Dori Berinstein gets impressive access to Broadway insiders (as also seen in her more recent Carol Channing: Larger than Life) giving this film not only suspense but a work-a-day sense of how big shows get made.

One(s) to Watch: The sweet/prickly underdog composing team of Marx & Lopez takes center stage, even more so now that you can see the seeds of their breakup and Lopez’s second, even bigger triumph with The Book of Mormon.


Carol Burnett in "Moon Over Buffalo". Photo by Joan Marcus.

Moon Over Broadway (1997) Although it’s a bit older than the other docs, this dissection of the road to Broadway for Moon Over Buffalo starring Carol Burnett feels absolutely current (an above the title star brought in from TV, multiple cooks attempting to have their say in the creative pot…sound familiar). Acclaimed filmmakers Chris Hegedus & D.A. Pennebaker (The War Room) capture the hard, slog of work required to get what should be a light souffle of a show up. In the end, it’s not about art; it’s about survival for the cast, crew and creative team as they attempt to squeeze out one more laugh.

One to Watch: Burnett is the marquee star of the show and the documentary, though for different reasons. In the film, she is revealed to be much more complex than the happy, ear-tugging comedienne of variety television.

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