Review of Moon Over Broadway directed by D.A Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus
This is another behind the scenes look at the making of a broadway show. A few weeks ago I reviewed Every Little Step. That film was about the auditioning process for the musical A Chorus Line. While that film touched on the genesis behind A Chorus Line, its focus was on the auditions. This film goes into a lot more detail about the creative process that goes into staging a Broadway play.
The film begins with the introduction of the two main stars, Carol Burnett and Phil Bosco. From there we are introduced to the writer, Ken Ludwig, and producers Elizabeth Williams and Rocco Landesman. At this point the actors have been hired, the financing has been acquired, and everything is in place to begin rehearsals for the play Moon Over Buffalo.
Since this is a new play there are plenty of kinks to work out. There is a table reading and then rehearsals with constant rewrites. One interesting scene involves a confrontation between the director Tom Moore and actor Phil Bosco. Phil has a few suggestions on how to fix certain scenes, but Tom is stubbornly not open to suggestions. In fact, he states that the play is not going to be improvisational. He claims that 96% of the play works just fine on paper and he doesn't see any reason to change things. He makes this statement with one of the most talented improvisational actresses in the world, Carol Burnett, sitting at the table next to him. You get the idea throughout that Carol isn't very happy with the process.
After a couple of dress rehearsals the play is staged in front of a paying audience. More changes are made. The director starts to accept suggestions from Carol and Phil. The director defends his decision to not allow improvisation by saying that if he included every suggestion that an actor made nothing would ever get accomplished. This is total bull-crap. Improvisation and collaboration leads to a better end product. You try everything and take what works. But if if you don't take the time to listen, then you're limiting yourself.
Before debuting on Broadway, the play moves to Boston where it plays for five weeks. The intention is to iron out more of the problems before New York. At one point the producers discuss the possibility of bringing in a ghost writer to spruce up the jokes. Ultimately they decide against it and stick with Ken.
Then it's off to New York and a couple of shows for the critics before the official Broadway opening. Everyone's's nervous. A bad review in a paper like the New York Times and a play can open and close the same week. In fact, at the end of the film they point out that of all the plays that opened in New York that year, only three continued for its full run. Moon Over Broadway was one of them.
Lastly, this film had one of the most interesting audio commentaries I've heard. The audio commentary includes commentary from the writer, producers, director, and actors. But not all of them are present at the same time. So we get to hear Phil Bosco talking honestly about the problems he had with the director, and then we get to hear the director's version of events. Carol's audio commentary is in the form of audio excerpts taken from an interview she did several years after the play had ended.
This documentary was shot in 1995 and aired in 1997, so it's a little dated. One scene in particular involves the writer writing a new scene on an IBM PC with a floppy drive. Still, If I were an aspiring actor I would definitely check this film out along with Every Little Step.