The 2003-'04 Broadway theater season was bustling, unpredictable. It had song and dance, hope and heartbreak. It had Rosie O'Donnell. So what else is...

Share story

The 2003-’04 Broadway theater season was bustling, unpredictable. It had song and dance, hope and heartbreak. It had Rosie O’Donnell.

So what else is new?

What’s new is Dori Berinstein’s documentary about the Great White Way, a peek behind the velvet curtains at the progress of four musicals that vied for Tony Awards, press attention and audiences during that season.

They are the Oz-based, dark-horse success “Wicked”; the daringly serious (and sadly under-attended) “Caroline, or Change”; pop star Boy George’s “Taboo,” which lost producer O’Donnell about $10 million; and the upstart “Sesame Street” update for 30-somethings, “Avenue Q.”

This week, save 90% on digital access.

For theater critics like yours truly, this breezy scan of the perpetual ballyhoo and madness that is Broadway is like another day at the office — without some of the grittier insider scoop.

And for those who wouldn’t take in a Broadway musical if a pair of $300 orchestra VIP seats fell in their laps, “ShowBusiness” may hold little allure.

But for theatergoers, theater students, theater folk — anyone mildly or very intrigued by the glitter and gamble of a commercial theatrical mecca that has outlived many dire predictions — this is an entertaining visit to a strange planet.

Berinstein’s cameras follow sincere, hard-working actors like Raúl Esparza (“Taboo”) and Idina Menzel (“Wicked”) from rehearsals and makeup sessions to opening-night folderol and Tony Award frenzy.

We also look in on the creative teams who crafted these shows, with much time devoted to the composer-lyricists of “Avenue Q,” Bobby Lopez and Jeff Marx.

It’s amusing to see these two young Broadway novices enjoy that rare phenom, “overnight success.” Marx seems especially incredulous as his show becomes a word-of-mouth hit and sweeps the Tonys. His father, meanwhile, expresses amazement that this “weird” screw-up of a son actually made good.

Through the wry observations of veteran theater publicists and producers, and roundtable dishing by critics (and the much-feared New York Post gossip columnist Michael Riedel), we are constantly reminded what a crapshoot Broadway is.

“ShowBusiness” leaves out the arm-twisting and power-plays behind the Tonys. And it bounces from show to show, and person to person, in a brisk if somewhat frustrating fashion.

We’re tantalized with just a bit of the compelling backstory of “Caroline, or Change” star Tonya Pinkins, a powerhouse making a big comeback in an admirable show that couldn’t compete with fluffier fare.

And the media darling/pariah Ms. O’Donnell? One almost feels sorry for her here. And sympathetic to Euan Morton — the touted actor-singer who was the young Boy George in “Taboo” and lost his U.S. work permit right after the show flopped.

Yes, Virginia, there’s still a broken heart for every light on Broadway … .

Misha Berson:

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.