note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Beverly Creasey
Documentary filmmakers Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker turned their cinematic attention to Broadway, and in addition to letting us in on what really goes on backstage, they've answered the question most asked by bewildered critics: "Why would producers pour money into a really bad play?"
The Broadway comedy they chronicled was Ken ludwig's decidedly unfunny "Moon Over Buffalo" which NEW YORK Magazine's John Simon quipped was "a moon inexplicably over Buffalo and beneath contempt." Having seen it during its Boston run I wondered if it would make it to Broadway. Even its stars, Carol Burnett and Philip Bosco, couldn't get this lumbering ox of a script off its feet. Unknown to Burnett (until she saw the film that is) the playwright was blaming her ... and unknown to the playwright, the producers were thinking of hiring a joke writer.
Nerves were so frazzled that everyone's backs were in jeopardy. No one was having a good time, and now thanks to Hegedus and Pennebaker, we all know about it. But more important than revealing the flaws behind the velvet curtain, the filmmakers inadvertently reveal the pluck and bling courage of producers like Rocco Landesman, who is the only person to come off well in this film. He marshals his forces like a trouper when things look bad. It doesn't seem to matter that the cause is dubious; he fights for his causes. There's something endearing about his commitment.
However, there's a frightening element at work here. The lesson Hegedus and Pennnebaker ferret out is that quality doesn't much matter on Broadway. It has little to do with success, as Landesman and company proved bu running "Moon" until the backers were in the black; of course, theater-goers were out the price of a ticket, and there's something terribly sad about that.