Leadership / 07.21.20
Teddy’s Top 10 Broadway-Based Movies
When recently chronicling the shutdown of the New York theatre scene (now through the end of 2020), the Wall Street Journal ran a truly sad photo. It was of a lone street sweeper going about his job — mask on his face, shuffling discarded wrappers, soda cans and other trash off 42nd Street.
Yes, Broadway will remain dark through December, likely longer, in the pandemic era. No “Hamilton.” No “The Lion King.” No “Company.” No new plays or revivals. No Tony hopefuls. It’s all very heartbreaking when you stop to think about it — the actors and actresses who had been in some of these shows for years, the young and aspiring thespians who had just gotten their big break and were making their Broadway debuts, the shows that were still on the way that have been postponed.
But if you miss the Broadway stage, fortunately, you still have Broadway movies! There have been a plethora of fine motion pictures over the decades to tell stories of Broadway actors, directors, producers and playwrights. There have been shows within shows, adaptations and wholly new works featuring everyone from Al Pacino to, well, Kermit T. Frog.
Here is my Top 10 list of Broadway-based movies if you’re missing the lights of the Great White Way (in alphabetical order):
1. “All About Eve” — I say this 1950 classic about an aging Broadway star who clashes with a young, up-and-coming starlet is both Bette Davis’ best movie and her best performance. Fight me on it and … ahem … you better “fasten your seatbelts; it’s going to be a bumpy night!”
2. “All That Jazz” — Winner of four Oscars, this 1979 musical drama from Bob Fosse is almost relentlessly entertaining (not to mention way out there). Roy Scheider stars as a Broadway director and choreographer about to stage his latest show, a vanity project for him and his ex-wife, Audrey (Leland Palmer). The supporting cast is a dream, featuring everyone from Jessica Lange to Ben Vereen to Ann Reinking.
3. “Author, Author!” — Al Pacino plays a divorced dad trying to raise his family (including four of his estranged wife’s stepkids) while trying to launch a new play on Broadway that’s rife with production problems. The movie is full of great, nostalgic shots of Manhattan and Times Square circa the late (and rather seedy) 1970s/early ’80s … that is, if you’re like me and are nostalgic for the rather seedy Times Square of the late ’70s and early ’80s.
4) “The Band Wagon” — A movie star looking to renew his career on the Broadway stage? Check. A female lead he can’t stand? Check. A pretentious artistic director whose vision for the show changes it beyond recognition? Check. A jealous choreographer who may ruin it all? Check. This 1953 classic starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse checks all those boxes and more.
5. “Birdman” — Director Alejandro Iñárritu’s 2014 Oscar-winning drama is a one-take wonder centered on a fading Hollywood star (Michael Keaton) best known for playing a costumed superhero trying to reinvent himself as a serious stage actor. The Broadway show he mounts — a stage adaptation of a Raymond Carver story — is fraught with clashing egos, chaotic rehearsals and the underlying tension that the whole thing might not come together on opening night. Great flick … just don’t ask me to explain that ending!
6. “Me and Orson Welles” — Richard Linklater of “Boyhood” fame scored with this underrated 2008 drama about a 17-year-old high school student (Zac Efron) who’s cast in Welles’ Mercury Theater production of William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” Few films offer a better depiction of what it takes to bring Broadway-caliber theatre art to the masses, and Christopher McKay is terrific as the legendary actor and director of the film’s title.
7. “The Muppets Take Manhattan” — I’m under no illusion. I could recommend to you Broadway-set films featuring Bette Davis and Fred Astaire or those directed by Bob Fosse or Richard Linklater. But, at the end of the day, many of you are probably more likely to revisit this third Muppet big-screen adventure than any of those. The truth is, so am I! How can you not root for Kermit, Miss Piggy and the gang to take their small-town musical to Broadway? The 1984 film also featured the debut of the Muppet Babies. You will submit!
8. “Opening Night” — Is your marriage fraught with tension? Imagine the nightly dinner conversations and pillow talk between director John Cassavetes and his real-life wife, Gena Rowlands, when they were making 1977’s “Opening Night.” In the film, Rowlands plays a once-famed Broadway actress who tries to prove she still has it by starring in a play about a woman unable to admit she’s aging. Yikes! The result is a tense, powerful drama that uses the Broadway stage as both a source of hope and an instrument of demise.
9. “The Producers” — No article of this type would be complete without including this 1967 classic (or, if you prefer, its 2005 remake) about two greedy producers’ scheme to stage the world’s worst Broadway musical and make off with the budget. “That’s exactly why we want to produce this play! To show the world the true Hitler, the Hitler you loved, the Hitler with a song in his heart!” Ah, Mel Brooks in his prime …
10. “ShowBusiness: The Road to Broadway” — Have you seen this 2007 documentary about the 2004-2006 Broadway season? You need to! It’s a snapshot in time — a time when the New York theatre scene was alive with both beloved hits (“Wicked” and “Avenue Q”) and lovable misses (“Taboo,” “Caroline, or Change”).
Others (in alphabetical order): “Broadway Idiot,” “A Chorus Line,” “Critic’s Choice,” “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies” and “Twentieth Century.”
DISHONORABLE MENTION: "Act One" (1963). Based on Moss Hart’s autobiography, it's not exactly a good movie starring the young George Hamilton as the great playwright. On the plus side, the supporting cast includes everyone from Jason Robards and Jack Klugman to Eli Wallach and George Segal. For my money, the staged version Lincoln Center recently streamed through July 3 of this year with Tony Shalhoub and Andrea Martin was much better.
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Tags: Theater , Musicals , Broadway , COVID-19 , Coronavirus