STUDIO:  Liberation Ent.
MSRP: $28.95
RUNNING TIME: 104 Minutes 
• Audio Commentaries
• Over One-Hour of Deleted Scenes
• Promotional Spots
• Original Trailer
• Study Guide on DVD-ROM

The Pitch

“It’s like Hearts of Darkness without the penetrating glance into the harrowing precipice between making art and losing yourself, but with musical numbers.”

The Humans

Creators, stars, and stagehands involved in the creation of Broadway’s biggest musicals.

Molina knew the rules: handjobs were accepted, but Animal had to watch.

The Nutshell

Show Business chronicles the opening of four new Broadway musicals: the Tony Kushner scripted musical Caroline, Or Change, Boy George’s import from overseas Taboo, the off – broadway puppet-infused mayhem of Avenue Q, and the musical adaptation of Gregory Maguire’s alternate Oz history take, Wicked. The documentary follows these four shows as they find their footing / stumble and work their way towards opening night and beyond, with the hope of establishing a foothold in a location where new material is notoriously hard to cultivate, with the eventual hope of being nominated for and winning a Tony award for their efforts.

The Lowdown

I’ve never been a huge patron of the theater; I prefer the enclosed rectangle that comprises the cinematic space, and while there is something to be said for the raw energy of a live performance, I’ve always felt it easier to make the leap into believing or giving myself over to what’s happening on a movie screen versus that of the stage. Less work for my lazy ass, more than likely. So I come to Show Business: The Road to Broadway a theatrical troglodyte, more than willing to be immersed in the world of theater (although Broadway has always struck me as the summer movie season of stage play) and to be given some insight into the ins and outs of just what it takes to make a Broadway show.

The thing that hampers this film the most is the sense that you’re just being given a gloss of the race for the Tony awards here, and there’s a lack of insight or personal investment with all of the characters that works against it in terms of developing a thicker bond between audience and film. This isn’t a no-holds-barred look at the inner workings of Broadway shows and you never really feel like you’re getting the whole story, mostly just secondhand reports of what actually went down. However, there’s still that narrative structure of opening, closing and awards that make the entire film feel like a complete story being told, so despite its lack of depth or insight into what it’s attempting to capture, you get swept up in the natural drama of an awards show season where there’s a winner at the conclusion. 

Boy George knew that the audience would follow him anywhere so long as he shoehorned in some clavicle-fucking wherever he could.

Little tidbits help keep the documentary from losing the viewer completely; the filmmaker does a good job of showing how high stakes opening a new show on Broadway can be (millions go into it, and there’s no guarantee it will last through the year), and every so often you get the feeling you’re actually seeing the creative process unfold instead of watching people talk about it instead. It also helps that an insufferable theater critic (seemingly in the mold of Peter O’Toole’s Ratatouille character, but real) works the villain role to a T, giving the viewer something to root against. The device that inserts him into the plot (a slightly strange conglomeration of theater critics that has a legion of doom vibe to it, and also seems like the worst time ever for all involved) feels forced, but it still plays.

LL’s really scraping the bottom of the barrel for album cameos at this point.

So while the film seems to serve as almost a Cliffs Notes version of the effort put forth behind-the-scenes to create these Broadway shows, it’s still dramatically compelling stuff.  There isn’t enough of the human aspect here, it’s mostly about the different seasons in Broadway and seeing which shows have the legs to survive a notoriously old-school and fickle clientele who don’t exactly champion new and challenging material. It seems like this would’ve been better served by being stretched out into a television miniseries or episodic season where the people involved could’ve been fleshed out a bit more so you would’ve been more emotionally involved in the end result. However, what’s here is compelling enough, but like fast food: you can’t help but think you could be getting a better meal than what’s being given to you, but it’s good enough to tide you over for a while. It was even good enough to make me interested in attending some of these productions. Mild recommendation.

Apparently, people weren’t clamoring for Cry Baby and Slipstream anecdotes quite as much as the investors had originally thought.

The Package

The cover art is suitably indicative of what the film is aiming for, even if it doesn’t fully accomplish those goals. Rare is the film that addresses my problem with it through its special features, but this documentary does just that. There’s over an hour of cutting room floor footage here, the majority of which helps enrich and deepen the world established in the documentary, giving some extra behind-the-scenes information that probably didn’t have a home in the finished product, but is welcome here in the special features. There’s also a friendly/informational commentary track with director Bernstein, product Alan Cumming and one of the co-creators of Avenue Q. It’s conversational without losing an informative quality and is definitely worth a spin for anyone who enjoyed the flick. The original trailer and promotional spots are included and are interesting for suggesting that the film had sent its cameras out to numerous different Broadway shows, and weren’t hedging their bets on just a few specific shows to make it to the Tony Awards in terms of nominations (in fact, Caroline, Or Change doesn’t even show up at any point in this trailer), so it’s slightly revealing as to how comprehensive the shoot might have actually been. Overall, it’s an enlightening set of extras that enrich the experience of the documentary and make it better than what it was stand alone. The special features help push this over the hump and make it a title I’d recommend for fans of Broadway or anyone who’s looking to get an idea of what it takes to make a show of that nature in this day and age. The rare case of bonus features that help augment the feature.

6.4 out of 10