Review by Sean Boelman
Many industries were shaken by the COVID-19 pandemic, but few were entirely dragged to a halt as much as showbusiness. The new documentary Broadway Rising follows a group of talented, courageous, and passionate people both in front of and behind the scenes as they face their biggest challenge yet.
The film tells the story of the artisans, craftspeople, performers, and workers who banded together to reopen Broadway after a lengthy closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The movie opens by mentioning the only other time Broadway closed — the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks — immediately emphasizing how bizarre and dire this situation is.
First and foremost, the film is an ode to perseverance and the creative spirit. As the adage says, “The show must go on,” and this has never been more the case than it is with the industry still struggling to recover from an 18-month shutdown — the longest in the storied history of Broadway.
The movie does a good job of showing us a range of who was affected by the Broadway shutdown, from the Broadway stars to the ushers and backstage workers who lost their livelihoods due to the pandemic. However, the film does — perhaps questionably — nearly glorify the questionable behavior of these individuals who prioritized work over safety without critiquing the system that caused them to reach such desperation.
Given that the movie deals with such a large group of subjects, there is plenty of story to be told. As a result, there’s not any dead time, making the film almost feel rushed. There is enough material here that a solid docuseries could have been made about the revival of Broadway from the pandemic.
One of the biggest missed opportunities of the movie is that it does not contain enough footage of the actual work that has been done to bring Broadway back to “normal.” Of course, much of this can be chalked up to licensing issues, as use of performance or even rehearsal footage could cost a hefty fee — but the absence is notable nonetheless.
Instead, director Amy Rice uses a lot of talking head interviews to a point where the film almost becomes overly reliant on them. Although it’s certainly inspiring to see all of these people with their optimism that their beloved stage can return to the way it was before, it begins to grow old after a bit.
Broadway Rising is a pleasant watch, largely thanks to how heartwarming it is to see everyone involved come together to support an institution they — and we — love so dearly. It’s a bit conventional in its presentation and limited by its budget, but it does the most it can with what it has.
Broadway Rising screens in theaters for one night only on December 5.