TechnoFILE is copyright and a registered trademark © ® of
Pandemonium Productions.
All rights reserved.
E-mail us Here!

Broadway – the American Musical on DVD

This six part, three disc documentary series offers some great stuff for those who love Broadway musicals. It’s full of photos, clips and interviews from those who were there, or those who study those who were there, and it’s offered in a widescreen presentation that at times looks great on a 16x9 TV.

It also manages to cram in its share of left wing Monday morning quarterbacking, but this is, after all, PBS and so it’s only to be expected. Only the left seems to enjoy looking backward at a history in which it was also a participant and then expect people who lived in different times to behave as they’d expect people (other than themselves, of course) to behave today.

But I digress.

Hosted by the great Julie Andrews, Broadway outlines the history of American musical theater from its early days rooted in vaudeville, operetta, and minstrel shows, to the present day. Personalities covered include Florenz Ziegfeld, George Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim (almost at nauseum, perhaps because he’s still around to be interviewed), Bob Fosse, and David Merrick.

Notable shows covered include the wonderful and ground breaking Oklahoma!, as well as such greats as My Fair Lady, South Pacific, Annie Get Your Gun, Guys and Dolls, and West Side Story, as well as titles such as Company, Cats, and the recent hit Wicked. The people and the plays are looked at through performance clips (often of TV and movie versions) as well as interviews with playwrights, songwriters, stars, directors, producers, historians, and even that lowest form of humanity critics.

Oh yeah, we’re critics, too. Okay, critics are all right then.

The coverage gets better as the productions get newer, undoubtedly because there’s more footage available of more modern productions, but for the most part we get pretty good introductions to some of Broadway’s biggest and/or most important productions. Alas, some productions are given short shrift (such as Gypsy. The Music Man, and Damn Yankees) and if the wonderful Man of La Mancha was mentioned at all it must have been when this reviewer blinked – and that’s a shame.

Still, there’s a lot of history to cover in six hours.

Andrews, not surprisingly, is a wonderful choice to host this extravaganza and one of the highlights of the set is the footage of her in her breakthrough stage role as Eliza Doolittle in the Broadway production of My Fair Lady. Many will remember the controversy when she was passed over for the role in the Warner Brothers movie (Audrey Hepburn proved to be wonderful in the part, however), a slight that worked out in her favor when she was cast as – and won the Best Actress Oscar for – Walt Disney's Mary Poppins.

And some of the footage is remarkable – though the audio and video quality is (not surprisingly) all over the map. Some stuff looks to be culled from such TV shows of the day as The Ed Sullivan Show and Tony Awards broadcasts (not that there’s anything wrong with that, especially when it’s the only – or best - footage available), and some of the stills show their age as well. On the other hand, some of the still pictures look remarkably good.

They dwell too much on politically correct issues such as “the inherent racism in society” and not enough on the many remarkable and classic tunes, but this is PBS. Despite that, we get to hear snippets of a wide variety of songs, some of which this reviewer loved as a kid but had forgotten even existed, such as the tunes from Kiss Me, Kate.

Picture quality, as mentioned, is all over the map. While the video production has been shot in 16x9 compatible widescreen, that means a lot of old stuff has been cropped to fit, but the for most part you don’t notice it. And a lot of the video/film clips look awful, while many of the stills and much of the more modern stuff (and Ms. Andrews’ new footage) looks just fine.

Audio is generally quite acceptable, though of course this depends a lot on the source material being used.

And as if the six hours aren’t enough time to spend in the home theater, they’ve also crammed in numerous extras, including:
• Bill Robinson from the movie Harlem Is Heaven (1932); Eddie Cantor's tailor-shop routine in the 1929 film Glorifying the American Girl; "Hostesses of the Stage Door Canteen" from Irving Berlin's wartime This Is the Army; "If I Loved You" (from Carousel) performed by John Raitt and Jan Clayton; South Pacific’s "Some Enchanted Evening" performed by Ezio Pinza and Mary Martin;
• Over three hours of additional interviews with Broadway composers, directors, and stars
• Special featurette: "Wicked: The Road to Broadway"

So all in all, politics aside, you end up with a wonderful look at one of America’s most wonderful contributions to world culture, the Broadway Musical.

Broadway, the American Musical, from Paramount Home Entertainment


Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think













Support TechnoFile
via Paypal

TechnoFILE's E-letter
We're pleased to offer
our FREE private,
private E-mail service.
It's the "no brainer"
way to keep informed.

Our Privacy Policy