Broadway the American Musical on DVD
This six part, three disc documentary series offers some great
stuff for those who love Broadway musicals. Its full of photos, clips and
interviews from those who were there, or those who study those who were there,
and its 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 its 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 theyd expect people (other than themselves, of course) to
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 hes 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, were critics, too. Okay, critics are all right
The coverage gets better as the productions get newer, undoubtedly
because theres more footage available of more modern productions, but for
the most part we get pretty good introductions to some of Broadways
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 thats a shame.
Still, theres 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
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 theres anything wrong with that, especially when
its 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
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 dont
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 arent enough time to spend in the
home theater, theyve 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
Pacifics "Some Enchanted Evening" performed by Ezio Pinza and Mary
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 Americas most wonderful contributions to world culture, the
Broadway, the American Musical, from Paramount Home
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