Wednesday, November 13, 2019

DOC NYC Spotlight: On Broadway

I’m excited to have been able to screen a few selections from DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, which presents its tenth year in New York City from November 6th-15th.

On Broadway
Directed by Oren Jacoby
DOC NYC Screenings

In the early days of cinema, there was an incomparable excitement that came with getting the chance to see it. People flocked to moviehouses to be able to experience it firsthand, in a way that’s just no longer the case with the advent of home video and the prevalence of streaming services where it’s not necessary to even have a copy of what you want to watch since it’s so readily available. One industry that has aged but hasn’t evolved technologically in the same way is live theater, which requires performers to offer a fresh turn each time the show begins. And for theater, there’s one place that encapsulates it above all: Broadway.

The history of the artistic capital of New York City is told through interviews with a number of famous personalities well-known for their theater work, including Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Christine Baranski, and Alec Baldwin. The dangerous neighborhood that Times Square used to be is explored as a potential roadblock on the way to a continued thriving industry, as well as the ownership stakes of several high-profile individuals in theaters and shows. Along the journey to the present, there are many innovative stops, including bold productions such as “Cats” and “The Lion King,” boundary-pushing plays like “Angels in America” and “Rent,” and more recent explorations of transgender identity where transgender people actually have the opportunity to represent themselves.

Any theater lover is sure to enjoy this film, which can’t possibly capture the entire scope of Broadway over the course of many years of well-known musicals and plays but manages to highlight a whole lot of fun standouts. Hearing from the stars who are still well-known today, not just for their theater work, isn’t quite as enticing as seeing footage of these daring shows that defied conventions and sought to bring an entirely new audience in while changing the art form with new additions and mesmerizing perspectives. This documentary doesn’t come to any conclusions that should shock casual theatergoers or the most avid fans, but its exploration is one tinged with curiosity and humor, making for a fully engaging and enthralling trip back in time to some of the most formative and influential moments in Broadway history. One memorable quote addressing the rising prices of theater tickets – “It’s not called show charity, it’s called show business” – perfectly sums up this film’s tone and message: this is a changing game, and one that, for many, is always worth watching, no matter how expensive it may get.


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