Quick quiz: Which show won the 2004 Tony for best musical, Wicked, Avenue Q or The Boy from Oz? If you’re rolling your eyes at how easy that was, we’ve got a movie for you. For one full year in 2003, Berinstein followed the fortunes of four musicals headed for Broadway. She had the good luck to be behind the scenes on one of the biggest hits in recent Broadway memory (that would be Wicked), one of the most implausible breakout successes (Avenue Q), one of the most gossiped-about (Taboo) and one with the toniest pedigree (Caroline, or Change, written by Tony Kushner).
She also got remarkable access to practically everyone involved in those shows, from Wicked composer Stephen Schwartz to Taboo star Euan Morton. She even persuaded a group of theater critics to get together at several points in the year and talk shop.
Berinstein moves forward chronologically, so we can experience the same ebb and flow of optimism and despair that the people involved go through. Of course, we’ve got the advantage of hindsight, knowing that Taboo is headed for disaster and the nervous Avenue Q writing team is headed for awards.
At times we wished for more depth on each musical; when Idina Menzel worries about finding the right way to play Wicked heroine Elphaba, couldn’t we get a bit more about how she solved that? But that’s the trade-off for the scope that following four shows allows. For the Broadway babies out there, ShowBusiness will make you want to schedule a trip to the Great White Way.