Leonard Soloway is the man behind more than 100 shows—and now he’s in the spotlight, thanks to Leonard Soloway’s Broadway.
A full-length documentary that traces Soloway’s career as a general manager and producer, as well as his most recent Off-Broadway project, Tappin’ Thru Life, Jeff Wolk’s film is both a history lesson in American theatre and a glimpse at a way of doing business that is rapidly fading. Not that Soloway himself plans to fade away anytime soon.
“This friend said he wanted to do a documentary, and I said I don’t care,” Soloway says regarding the origins of the film, in the verbal equivalent of a shrug. “So he followed me around from time to time.” Then, as if realizing that he hadn't made a joke in a few seconds, Soloway added, “And I remember once he was looking for a studio to do editing, and a friend of mine from England had a building down in the Village where I sent him. And he said, ‘Leonard sent me, I’m going to do a documentary on him.’ And he paused, and said, ‘Clark Gable he’s not.’”
Not Gable, perhaps, but Soloway’s amusement at the foibles of others and his perpetual half smile render him just as charming. Over the course of the film, he reminisces about the legends with whom he’s worked—Marlene Dietrich, Carol Channing, Lauren Bacall—while also providing as an inside look at what goes into producing an Off-Broadway show. The stories are as riveting as the contemporary portion, in which money is difficult to raise and hard choices must be made at the most inopportune time.
Throughout, he displays the wit that has made him a beloved member of the theatre community. Whether he’s talking about Bacall in Applause (“One night the assistant conductor played through the show [for the first time] and as they passed at the end of the show she said, ‘Nice try.’ He said, ‘You too’”), the surprising reviews for the musical Skyscraper (“The show was so bad that we gave tickets away. All the relatives of people in the show came on opening night so they screamed and hollered at every number—and we got good reviews”) or his current passion project, the HUAC-era drama Fellow Travelers, Soloway is a bridge between the Golden Age of Broadway and its current incarnation.
But either way, Leonard Soloway’s Broadway is one that any theatre fan will relish visiting.
Leonard Soloway’s Broadway is currently screening at NYC’s Landmark 57 through November 7. It will be available on streaming services November 12.