Leonard Soloway’s Broadway
Digital Download and DVD
Reviewed – October 2019
“‘I hate this fucking business’ Soloway grumbles at one point, but we know that nothing could be further from the truth”
Leonard Soloway has been a Broadway producer and general manager for over 60 years, and has been involved with over 150 productions, garnering a host of Tony Awards, Drama Desk Awards and Pulitzer prizes along the way. He has worked with some of the biggest names in show business – Paul Newman, Lauren Bacall, Jerome Robbins and Marlene Dietrich among them – and, at 90 years of age, is still a force to be reckoned with on The Great White Way.
When Jeff Wolk (documentary director and producer) met Soloway working on his latest production – Maurice Hines’ Tappin’ Through Life – and thought he would make an excellent subject for a behind the scenes look at the business, his instincts were absolutely right. Soloway is extraordinary. He fell in love with the theatre at the Cleveland Playhouse, where he worked as a young man, and simply never looked back. An openly gay Jewish man (‘He was gay and Jewish before anybody was gay and Jewish’ as Tovah Feldshuh, one of the film’s talking heads tells us) Leonard Soloway powered himself to the very top of his game with exceptional passion and drive, honesty, nerves of steel and a great deal of charm. He swears like a trooper – ‘It’s a matinee. Who the fuck’s going to be there?’ he barks at his long-standing and fiercely loyal company manager Judith Drasner – knows EVERYONE, and simply does not stop.
Wolk’s documentary has a double-stranded structure which works extremely well. Intertwined with Soloway’s history, we follow the progress of the show he is currently bringing to Broadway. In this way, as well as giving us Soloway’s own riveting story, the documentary shines a fascinating light on the mechanics of putting on a show, from its beginnings in a regional theatre to a Broadway run, including getting investment, running ads and negotiating budgets. Seeing Soloway interacting in all these situations is theatre in itself, and completely compelling viewing for theatre junkies like this reviewer. It is also striking to see a man so at home in the razzamatazz showbiz world of Sardis (famous NYC theatre restaurant) and opening nights, in his distinctly drab and functional office. It says a lot about the man. He is a pro, and work is work. No need for glitz and glamour when you’ve got business to do.
Wolk has managed to interview a lot of Broadway players – from actors, to producers, to industry bigwigs – and the documentary is liberally sprinkled with wonderful theatrical anecdotes. It would be criminal to give the best ones away, but suffice it to say that the take-away tale from Marlene Dietrich’s last solo appearance in New York is a humdinger! There are also some windows into Soloway’s cheerfully active romantic and sexual life which are revealing without being prurient, and are clearly essential to this portrait. My only criticisms are of the slightly misjudged history lesson on Wilde – shoehorned in in the guise of context for one of Soloway’s hits – and the over-sentimental music underscoring footage of the 1980s AIDS crisis. This sentimentality is entirely at odds with the occasionally salacious but always matter-of-fact way in which Soloway has lived, and continues to live, his life as a gay man. Thankfully, this spirit is perfectly captured in the documentary’s closing moments, in a lovely final flourish, which will stay with the viewer long after the credits have rolled.
The Broadway that has been Leonard Soloway’s life is changing, of course, but perhaps not as much as we might think. And there’s no doubt that it still seduces as much as it ever did. ‘I hate this fucking business’ Soloway grumbles at one point, but we know that nothing could be further from the truth. It, quite literally, keeps him alive.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Leonard Soloway’s Broadway
will be available on digital platforms and DVDs will be available on Amazon.Com beginning November 12th