‘Leonard Soloway’s Broadway’ stands out

Leonard Soloway sitting in theater seats
Leonard Soloway's Broadway

Evidence of Soloway’s homosexuality is sprinkled throughout this new documentary

Leonard Soloway's Broadway
Leonard Soloway’s Broadway

I have a theory that tall gay men had a certain level of comfort being out back when it was less accepted than it is today. Think Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde. Both were taller than average in their day.

My most recent discovery to support this hypothesis is Leonard Soloway, as described in the documentary Leonard Soloway’s Broadway, opening Nov. 4 and running for a limited engagement through Nov. 7 at The Landmark on 57th Street in New York City. The nonagenarian has been a fixture producing and managing Broadway productions for half a century.

Robert E. Wankel, president and co-CEO of The Schubert Organization, described Soloway as follows: “He always has that smile, and he’s got a good sense of humor and good personality, so everybody likes him. And he stands out. He’s tall.”

Evidence of Soloway’s homosexuality is sprinkled throughout the documentary in both subtle and some not-so-subtle ways. An impish wink at a waiter that concludes the film is enhanced by the more blatant placement of a novelty bank on his desk emblazoned with the words “saving for a blow job.” At another point in the movie, Soloway asks an investor, “Who do I have to blow to get $20,000?” Alongside his signature on his caricature that hangs on the wall at Sardi’s Restaurant, he wrote, “It’s good to be hung.”

Leonard Soloway's Broadway
Leonard Soloway’s Broadway

Like Soloway, described as “the first genuinely shameless gay man I ever met” by producer and Tony Award winner Manny Azenberg, the film embraces his homosexuality but doesn’t dwell on it. By intertwining historical facts of Soloway’s career with his more recent pursuit producing the dance revue Tappin’ Thru Life with Maurice Hines (Gregory Hines’ dancing brother), the film balances Soloway’s legendary status as a Broadway icon with the fact that he’s still chuggin’ through life at 90-plus years old.

His iconic status is well deserved, having started on Broadway as an assistant in the theater department of The American National Theater and Academy at 19 years old in 1947 and working his way up through the ranks to become the producer of some of the Great White Way’s best known successes (and some infamous flops). He worked with some of the 20th century’s most revered stars.

The actors he’s worked with (many of whom became friends) reads like a list of great celebrity performers—Zero Mostel, Ben Gazzara, Burt Bacharach, Marlene Dietrich, Hal Holbrook, Elaine Stritch, Bernadette Peters, Carol Channing, Lauren Bacall, Paul Newman, Liberace, Elizabeth Ashley, Debbie Gravitte, Jason Robards, and Whoopi Goldberg are among the many he’s worked with over the last 50 years.

Broadway is Soloway, and Soloway is Broadway. From his involvement with huge successes such as How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Jerome Robbins Broadway and Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, to his day-to-day life working day and night seven days a week, we learn that much of Soloway’s success is due to the fact that his work/life balance is that his work is his life.

His personal life is briefly touched on again when he attempts to retire to East Hampton and he describes the framed pictures being packed up of boyfriends he’s had over the years. But work as life is unavoidable as he becomes restless in the Hamptons. “He can’t stop. It’s not madness. It’s natural for him,” says Azenberg when Soloway comes out of retirement to take on his next project at 90-plus.

Told through interviews with business associates, performers and through commentary by Soloway himself, Leonard Soloway’s Broadway provides an insider’s look with stories that only the people who experienced them can share, all filtered through the long influential lifetime of one of Broadway’s most prolific and beloved behind-the-scenes icons who just happens to be unashamedly gay.

To see the film visit landmarktheatres.com/new-york-city