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REELING FILM FESTIVAL Unexpected legend takes stage in 'Broadway'
by Lauren Emily Whalen
2019-09-17

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He calls women "darling" and drops f-bombs in the same sentence. He's both Jewish and gay, and has never hidden either. He keeps photos of his ex-boyfriends in silver frames and can recount detailed anecdotes about each—and at the tender age of 90, he's bringing a show to Broadway.

Leonard Soloway's Broadway is a documentary about an unexpected legend: a producer who's been hustling in the New York theater scene for 70 years. Soloway's brought almost 150 productions to the Great White Way; his shows have accumulated 40 Tony Awards, 21 Drama Desk Awards and two Pulitzers.

According to friend Jeff Wolk, producer and director of Leonard Soloway's Broadway, Soloway didn't think the proposed documentary would see the light of day.

"I think he was sort of amused," Wolk said via phone. "He just gave me that smile of his, that you see in the film. I don't think he ever really thought I was going to make a full feature film about him."

Wolk is not a director by trade but has known Soloway for a decade—both hail from Cleveland and their families are friends.

"I just got such a kick out of spending time with him and hearing his stories," said Wolk. "I felt these stories needed to be shared with a larger audience. In the world we live in, the more you can laugh, the better."

As depicted in the film, Soloway approached Wolk—who had recently sold his real-estate business—to invest in his latest project, a revue entitled Tappin' Thru Life. With director Maurice Hines at the helm, and featuring talented up-and-coming tappers, the show was a hit in Boston. Leonard Soloway's Broadway presents parallels between Soloway's history as a producer with his journey in bringing Tappin' Thru Life to New York.

For Wolk, including Soloway's past and present was vital.

"I didn't just want to do a documentary about him, but I didn't just want to do a documentary about following him," Wolk said. "I believed from the very beginning that the only way to make this [film] work was to show him still working at a very old age, which I admire…and intersperse his history."

Wolk put together a team to find photographs and archival material from Soloway's career, and interviewed stage and screen stars like John Slattery, Tovah Feldshuh and Olympia Dukakis about their work with the producer. The documentary's narrator is actor Campbell Scott, son of actress Colleen Dewhurst, a close friend of Soloway's.

"Campbell loved Leonard, and this was his personal gift to Leonard," Wolk said.

The film also shows how the role of producer has evolved since Soloway began his career.

"Everything was done on a handshake for decades," Wolk said. "In the old days, if Leonard was trying to put together a project and he had a drink with somebody at Sardi's, they'd be in for $100,000 and that was it.

"I think what's different now is that everything has to be in writing, you have to have the money in the bank and then you keep raising money until you have what you need. It's much more corporate and business-oriented. And Leonard is still doing it the old way."

A two-year attempt at retirement in the Hamptons didn't take for Soloway. He lives mainly in Palm Springs, but is currently raising money for a New York production of Fellow Travelers, a new play about the effects of McCarthyism on playwright Arthur Miller and director Elia Kazan. He is also on the hunt for a superstar who can lead the production to financial success.

"At 90 years old, he put his personal belongings into storage and goes back to New York City to live in a studio, as if he was a 20-year-old kid, to try and make another show," Wolk said. "It's a special story."

Leonard Soloway's Broadway will screen Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 7:15 p.m. at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema, 2828 N. Clark St. Director and producer Jeff Wolk is scheduled to attend. For more about the 2019 Reeling Film Festival, visit reelingfilmfestival.org .


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