Over the Moon [2003]

In 1995, Carol Burnett returned to Broadway after an absence of three decades to costar in Ken Ludwig's comedy, Moon over Buffalo. Legendary documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker and his wife, Chris Hegedus, enjoyed extraordinary access to capture the nuts and bolts of mounting a Broadway play in this video equivalent of a backstage pass. It is more entertaining than the strained farce we glimpse onstage. Like Pennebaker's cinéma vérité masterworks, the filmmakers do not impose themselves on the proceedings. There is no narration. The cameras record the process, from the introductory press conference to the anxious anticipation of the opening night reviews. The play's director, Tom Moore, certainly has his hands full. Ludwig (who hit it big with the play Lend Me a Tenor) bemoans what the actors are doing to his words. "It's like a pact with the devil, having to cast stars," he complains. He must massage the actors' egos (the play's ingenue dislikes the picture of herself displayed outside the theater) and assuage their insecurities. Observe how he deftly and delicately reins in Burnett, who initially falls back on shtick to get a laugh. In one tense moment, Philip Bosco, Burnett's esteemed costar, becomes flustered when he believes his input is not appreciated. "Don't you want the benefit of our years of experience, of our sense of comedy?" he demands of Moore. Moon over Broadway is just the ticket for theater buffs. --Donald Liebenson

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