Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Actress Idina Menzel of WICKED and her make-up artist
Photo: Regent Releasing

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Directed by: Barry J. Hershey.
Produced by: Lewis D. Wheeler.
Director of Photography: Allie Humenuk.
Edited by: Marc Grossman.
Released by: Kino International.
Country of Origin: USA. 86 min. Not Rated.

Produced & Directed by: Dori Berinstein.
Written by: Berinstein & Richard Hankin.
Director of Photography: Alan S. Deutsch.
Edited by: Adam Zucker.
Music by: Jeanine Tesori.
Released by: Regent Releasing.
Country of Origin: USA. 102 min. Rated PG.

This immersion of contemporary theater examines the fate of four disparate musicals during the raucous 2003-2004 Broadway season: the bawdy Sesame Street take-off Avenue Q; the multimillion dollar prequel to The Wizard of Oz, Wicked; Rosie O’Donnell’s first foray as producer, Taboo, about the rise of Boy George in London’s 1980s club scene; and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner’s autobiographical Caroline, or Change. Only two survived to be hits. Among straight plays that season, there was a virtual bloodbath. (One, Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All with Ellen Burstyn, opened and closed on the same night. I saw it; I’m still traumatized.)

The tone is a conversation among friends – Caroline’s composer Jeanine Tesori also wrote this documentary’s score (she’s among those interviewed), and Avenue Q’s composer and lyricist appear to have granted the filmmaker, Broadway producer Dori Berinstein, complete access, including a home video of lyricist Jeff Marx performing “That’s Entertainment” at age 13. But not surprisingly, headline-grabbers O’Donnell and Boy George, the star and composer of her tuner, upstage those profiled, even with brief screen time. (Of all the featured musicals, only Taboo’s score stands out as original and memorable.) Except for Avenue Q book writer Jeff Whitty’s frank admission that working with his composer and lyricist was not a lot of fun, backstage war stories are not forthcoming. There’s no regurgitation of the turmoil surrounding Taboo. Perhaps, not enough time has passed.

For readers either of The New York Times or, ShowBusiness reveals little new information, but will probably nudge your memory. (Most of those watching will undoubtedly already know the theatre is “like nothing else.”) However, for culture vultures and those who have been away from the Great White Way, it will be like reading a whole season’s worth of Playbills.

The other show business-oriented documentary opening this week confines itself to threadbare audition rooms, where dozens of young actresses read for three roles in director Barry J. Hershey’s yet-to-be produced feature film. Unlike many recent docs, there’s a lack of emphasis on results or a competition, but there’s no discussion on the actual process; the opinions of the auditors are never voiced. (After all, admit it or not, one of the strongest draws of American Idol is the judges’ feedback.) Casting About is not really a fly-on-the-wall examination since the only ones on screen are actresses – if they aren’t aware of the camera, they are certainly paying attention to the auditors.

Many of the women are amazingly emotionally agile. Hershey has plenty of talented, not to mention photogenic, actresses to consider. However, the only fascinating scenes are the comparisons and contrasts between readings of the same dialogue. Overall, the shapeless Casting About is a ready-made DVD special feature, if the nameless film project ever gets made. Kent Turner
May 11, 2007



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