Dori Berinstein’s documentary traces the creation of four musicals during the 2003-2004 Broadway theater season. On the surface, this quartet has little in common: the old-fashioned “Wicked,” the hipster “Avenue Q,” the Boy George-inspired “Taboo” and the serious-minded “Caroline, or Change.” Yet all four productions share the same problems: ironing out kinks in the creative process, going into marketing overkill to lure audiences, dealing with snippy critics, and angling for a shot at the Tony Award for Best Musical.
While the productions may seem effortless, the hassles and crises facing each show are intense. “Wicked” required significant rewriting after a less-than-stellar pre-Broadway premiere in San Francisco. “Avenue Q,” with its R-rated riff on “Sesame Street” storytelling, dared to reach out to young professionals who usually ignore the costly, old-fashioned Broadway orbit. “Taboo” got stuck with negative publicity when its producer, Rosie O’Donnell, went ballistic in an unrelated lawsuit regarding a failed publishing partnership. And “Caroline, or Change” was the ultimate anomaly: a high-minded musical drama in an era when escapism reigns on stage.
This film may have been more successful had it focused on a single production. As it stands, many questions remain unanswered (particularly the issues of who is financing these productions). Berinstein also makes a mistake in repeatedly cutting to a gaggle of bitchy theater critics at a restaurant who carp and sneer at the shows between mouthfuls of pasta and sips of wine. Hey, if you think film critics are irrelevant, you should see the wastes of space covering Broadway!
However, the film is rich with memorable personalities (Boy George, in particular, is too much fun) and intriguing glimpses at the grueling rehearsal process. Anyone who thinks show biz is glamorous and easy should watch this film – particularly its troubling coda when it is revealed who gets left behind in career limbo when certain shows fold up prematurely.