STAGE TO SCREENS: Dori Berinstein and Her “Show Business” Documentary

Stage to Screens   STAGE TO SCREENS: Dori Berinstein and Her “Show Business” Documentary This month we chat with Dori Berinstein about her sparkling documentary, "Show Business," which was recently shown at the Tribeca Film Festival and awaits a distributor.
Idina Menzel getting made-up for a performance of Wicked in the documentary
Idina Menzel getting made-up for a performance of Wicked in the documentary "Show Business" Photo by Dramatic Forces

The film covers the 2003-04 Broadway season and focuses on four shows: Avenue Q, Wicked, Taboo and Caroline, or Change, chronicling them from their beginnings through Tony night. At the screening, the director claimed to have shot approximately 400 hours for the 102-minute feature. "The rest," she joked, "will be on the DVD."

Berinstein has succeeded in her goal of making a cinematic equivalent of the celebrated William Goldman book, "The Season," which covered the 1967-68 Broadway productions. "When I first read it [in college], I so desperately wanted to see a Broadway show. I grew up in Los Angeles and had never seen one. But I was very fortunate. I went to theatre all the time and was passionate about it. I grew up with a desire to produce Broadway shows. [She's currently working on her 11th production.] The Goldman book was my inspiration. I wanted to bring [his idea] to life. His book so completely captivated me."

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"Show Business" will captivate many viewers. As Mr. Berlin wrote, "Everything about it is appealing. . ." It transports us behind the scenes for a view of "the costumes, the scenery, the make-up, the props," and allows us to share some of the excitement in creating magic.

We're present the first time that Idina Menzel has her face spray-painted green for Wicked, and are treated to a glimpse of a 1999 home video of the initial Avenue Q workshop. We're taken inside the TKTS booth; we watch as an audience fills a theatre. We attend a gypsy-robe ceremony (which happens each opening night) and a marketing meeting (for Wicked). We experience the elation of hearing one's name as Tony Award nominations are announced and the devastation of an actor whose musical has closed — namely, an emotional Euan Morton en route to the airport for a flight back to England after Taboo has failed and his green card's been revoked.

Among the commentators are composer-lyricist Stephen Schwartz, who declares a musical version of Wicked "the best idea I'd ever heard"; New York Times critic Ben Brantley ("The musical [that season] that worked best for me from beginning to end was Avenue Q"); that show's songwriters, Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx; Tonya Pinkins, Alan Cumming, New Yorker magazine critic John Lahr, and William Goldman.

A couple of the comments: Boy George states, "If you stop shows like Taboo on Broadway, all you're going to have is Andrew Lloyd Webber [music] for the rest of your life." Euan Morton (recalling the night in London when Boy George brought Rosie O'Donnell backstage and she vowed to bring Taboo to Broadway), "After she left, Boy George said, 'We're never going to see that dyke again!'"

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the movies, Michael Riedel is ready for his close-up. The New York Post columnist is one of five commentators on the Broadway scene (the others are Patrick Pacheco, and critics Linda Winer, Jacques LeSourd and Charles Isherwood), who gather on four occasions to discuss (and dissect) different shows.

This group is viewed dining at such theatre-district restaurants as Angus McIndoe and Orso. At their first meeting, Riedel gleefully anticipates "more bombs, something to write about . . .that's what I'm looking forward to." Later, he comments on Wicked: "I saw it in San Francisco. It has a lot of problems," and inquires, "Who is the audience for Avenue Q?"

In these scenes, the attention invariably gravitates towards Riedel — the way it does with Tyler Maynard in Altar Boyz (or perhaps Riedel bribed the cameraman). Near the end, he's seen at the Tonys' press room, where he calls the continuing awards for Avenue Q, "the biggest upset I've come across." As himself, Riedel's performance falls short of George Sanders playing Addison DeWitt, but fares better than Rex Reed's Myron Breckenridge.

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"It was only clear at the end of the season which shows to focus on," explains Dori Berinstein. "It was in the editing room that we started to work on the real storytelling. Four shows really stood out. And we had to keep it tight. Beyond the Broadway community, we wanted to appeal to the people in Peoria who, if they didn't already appreciate theatre, might discover a love for it."

Not in any order, Berinstein cites some of the things that had to be excluded: "The Fiddler on the Roof sitzprobe, which was so emotional; the sword-fight training in Henry IV, with Ethan Hawke and Michael Hayden; interviews with Liza Minnelli, Brian Dennehy, Antonio Banderas, Patrick Stewart, John Lithgow . . .; costume fittings for King Lear; building the set for Wonderful Town; rehearsals for Never Gonna Dance; lots of stories on the four shows we chose. I wish people would watch 400-hour movies.

"A lot of people wondered why the whole Avenue Q campaign [requesting that Tony voters vote with their hearts] was missing. It will be on the DVD." Why was The Boy from Oz not included? "The truth is that it was the one show to which we were not given access. I would have loved to have been able to chronicle and celebrate that show — and Hugh [Jackman]! But they wouldn't allow us."

The filmmaker plans to use part of the leftover footage "to create educational programs for kids in high schools and colleges who are thinking about show business careers — and not just acting. I'm working on how to create something valuable for schools." Currently "diving into some other film projects," Dori Berinstein is also planning a Broadway production of "Legally Blonde." Observes Berinstein, "Broadway will always remain my passion!"

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Following the screening that I attended, there was a Q&A session with Berinstein, John Tartaglia (representing Avenue Q), Carpathia Jenkins (the Washing Machine in Caroline, or Change), and Stephen Schwartz, who was visibly upset about Riedel and Company. He was incensed with them "making jokes about what they were going to say about things before they even saw them." He wondered aloud, "Do they realize what they look like?"

Noted Schwartz, Wicked marked his first time working on Broadway in 20 years. He claimed that, because of the five commentators, "I'll never do it again." Later, he added, "For me, Broadway is not a hospitable environment to work in," and said that he was "fortunate to have earned enough not to have to write for Broadway again. Some people seem to thrive in it, but God knows how." At one point, Berinstein interjected that, since a screening a few nights earlier, "Some critics [in the film] apologized to people they spoke about." Tartaglia commented that he'd been present at that screening and that people "booed and hissed" when Riedel (who was also there) appeared on screen. The actor said that, at the soiree that followed, Riedel was preening, like "'Oh, I'm Captain Hook!'" Tartaglia recalled thinking that, if he were Riedel, "I wouldn't be here; I'd be home crying." (Old columnists never cry; they just flay away.)

There's no way that Michael Riedel might be up for an Oscar, is there?

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Michael Buckley also writes for TheaterMania.com, and is the author of the book "Between Takes (Interviews with Hollywood Legends)," to be published later this year.

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