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Review: 'Leonard Soloway's Broadway' is an Affectionate Profile of a Disarmingly Charming Broadway Legend

by Roger Walker-Dack
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Aug 20, 2020
'Leonard Soloway's Broadway'
'Leonard Soloway's Broadway'  

"Leonard Soloway's Broadway" is an affectionate profile of a disarmingly charming octogenarian Broadway legend that no one outside of the theater world has ever heard of, including us. This better-late-than-ever documentary on Leonard Soloway — the producer/general manager of over 100 shows that garnered over 40 Tony Awards and 60 Tony Nominations — is a sheer delight from the opening credits to the final scenes.   

There are no show business exposes or, in fact, much fine detail on Solway's personal life, but what we do get is a look at one of the old fashioned gentleman producers that epitomizes a golden age that has long past.

At 87, Soloway decides to actually retire, and has the movers pack up the Manhattan apartment that he has lived in for over 40 years, relocating to his new house in East Hampton. He's bored to death within three months, so he sells up and ships all his belongings back to the city, to an apartment one of his many friends lends him.

Despite a two-year marriage to actress Betty Gillette, Soloway was one of the first openly gay men in Broadway management. It was 1950, he was 30 years old, and, judging by the array of photographs of very handsome men that still adorn his bookcase, he had no shortage of lovers.

His story starts when his mother suggested he go and volunteer at the Cleveland Playhouse. He was 11 years and was totally smitten with the theater. By the time he was 18, he had moved to Off Broadway. His infectious passion for his work, and the fact he was more than happy to do it seven days a week, had him successfully climbing the ladder in no time.

Soloway has a wealth of stories about the stars he produced and managed and who all became his friends. Filmmaker Katy Scroggin interviewed several Broadway legends who were literally tripping over each other to sing his praises and declare their love for him. There are fascinating stories, like the one where he had to sack a young Bernadette Peters when her part was cut from a show. It freed her up, however, and she landed a role in "Dames At Sea," her first big hit. Now she credits Soloway to making her star. 

The other tale that stands out and seems surprising was when Marlene Dietrich summoned him to the theater at 8 am one Monday morning. It was the day of the opening of her new show, and she wanted her dressing room painted, but to Soloway's shock she actually wanted to do it herself — and she did. He also shared that this woman who had a reputation for being impossible to work with actually brought the whole orchestra dinner that she had cooked herself after every matinee performance.

Of all the difficult Broadway people Soloway had to deal with, Jerome Robbins was probably one of the worst. He had been pushing his cast of 62 very hard for six months of rehearsals when, one day, Soloway stepped in and sent them all home for a break. When Robbins challenged this, Soloway's refusal to back down was overheard by a stagehand who spread the news, subsequently making Soloway a Broadway hero.

Scroggin's cameras follow Soloway as he falls in love with the tap dancer Maurice Hines' new show and commits himself to bringing it into New York. He manages to do this, and the show opens at the Second Stage Theater to rave reviews, but is so under-financed that Soloway cannot keep it open. It is a rude awakening, as he realizes that the whole landscape of mounting shows has changed, and that so many of the investors who had supported him for years have now died. However, despite his declaration of "never again," it is not too long before Soloway starts another out-of-town run for a play that he desperately wants to produce. 

Producer Manny Azenberg jokes, "If you get to a certain age and you are still coherent, then you should do a documentary on them." But if anyone deserves for his story to be shared, then it's definitely Leonard Soloway, the like of which we will never see again.

Roger Walker-Dack, a passionate cinephile, is a freelance writer, critic and broadcaster and the author/editor of three blogs. He divides his time between Miami Beach and Provincetown.

Outfest 2020

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