NewFest 2019 Film Review: Leonard Soloway’s Broadway ★★★

Who is Leonard Soloway? And why should you care? Well, maybe there’s no reason for you to care, but if you like a good Broadway backstory and a glimpse behind the curtain into the world of a major theatre producer then Leonard Soloway’s Broadway might be for you.

Leonard Soloway is a Broadway producer – the man behind more than 100 shows, racking up 62 Tony nominations, 40 Tony Awards, and 21 Drama Desk Awards. This documentary by Jeff Wolk (narrated by Campbell Scott) charts the fate of two of Soloways recent shows from out-of-town trials, to their journey to Broadway.

Soloway is a character. “He was the first genuinely shameless gay man I ever met,” says producer Manny Azenberg in the film, and Soloway has stories to tell. From dating a member of the Secret Service, to spending dirty weekends with Liberace. But this isn’t a dirty memoir of backstage theatre anecdotes, well not JUST a dirty memoir of backstage theatre anecdotes, it’s a look at the changing face of the industry and the mechanics that go on behind the scenes. Like the Wizard from the Wizard of Oz, we see the magic while producers like Soloway are pulling levers and pressing buttons.

“Leonard is the person in our business who always tells the truth. Sometimes it’s brutal. Most of the time it’s funny,” says Tony Award Winner Debbie Gravitte, and we see this in scenes in Soloway’s office.

Working to transfer the successful touring show Maurice Hines’ Tappin Thru Life to Broadway, Soloway calls in investors and theatre owners trying to piece a deal together. All the while he’s telling stories about the likes of Paul Newman, Lauren Bacall, Jerome Robbins, Elaine Stritch and Marlene Dietrich. The film is fleshed out with interviews of friends and performers including John Slattery, Olympia Dukakis, Elizabeth Ashley, and Tovah Feldshuh.

Leonard Soloway’s Broadway can’t get away from being excessively talky, and the narration, delivered in a flat, factual style, attempts to fill in gaps in the least cinematic way possible. The highs of success and the lows of failure all level out at a somewhat subdued pace.

For Broadway fans this is a glorious look at the true world of The Producers and Soloway is an entertaining character to follow. You’re left thinking that there are many more stories to be told, and wishing you could sit around Leonard’s table and ask him for the real dirt.

By Chad Armstrong

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