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you don't have enough stars to show how wonderful this documentary is, how good in every way, from start to finish. All interviewees great, though it is the clips from shows and from the composers' lives that are great, as well as the occasional quotes read by actors. Couldn't be bettered. Julie Andrews fabulous as presenter.
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150 of 155 people found the following review helpful
A breathless delight!9 Nov 2004
M J Heilbron Jr.
- Published on Amazon.com
Soup to nuts, the folks over at PBS pulled it off. They've condensed the history of the American Broadway musical into six hours, and it feels about right.
Yes yes yes, there will be hordes of folks who quibble that their "all-time most important" musical didn't make it, but that's missing the point.
You will feel as if you have a serious grasp of the development of the American musical after seeing this film. Period. Mission accomplished.
The first segments of the documentary, hosted by the ageless Julie Andrews, begin with Flo Ziegfeld, and the "Follies". One thing that hasn't been mentioned (yet) is the nice concomitant history lesson you get regarding New York, Times Square and American popular culture while absorbing this mini-series. The influence of opera (or more properly, operetta), vaudeville and minstrel shows are made abundantly clear, and are fascinating to someone like me who really had no exposure to this sort of material.
As we reach mid-century, more and more of the people talked ABOUT in the film are actually alive...and the shows discussed are ridiculously familiar to even the most "uneducated" viewer. Song after song reveals their source...standards that originated on Broadway that have become part of our cultural language.
Artistic ambition grows by leaps and bounds...from the musical "revue" to musical "comedy" to a dramatic "book" musical. Storytelling techniques through song and staging develop as fast as the geniuses on the stage, behind the stage and under the stage can think...
Some of the creators, like Sondheim, are expert at analysis and insight. They provide some great "talking head" moments about musicals that aren't theirs! By and large, the critics they used for the documentary come across as enthusiastic, overwhelmingly knowledgeable, incisive, playful...I thought as a group they were terrific, without any hint of elitism, snobbery or any number of other "stereotypes" one may have about a "New York Broadway critic."
My first audible gasp came at the end of episode five, when they play that "I Love NY" commercial from the late 70's. I remember seeing that as a kid, but the only thing that had any effect on me was the presence of Brooke Shields at the end of it.
People like Mandy Patinkin, Patti Lupone, Angela Lansbury, those "Cats" creatures and yes, I think that's Patrick Swayze in "Grease" mode...what a riot!
The most affecting portion, for me, is the last episode, for that encompasses most of my personal Broadway experience. I imagine that whatever era you feel the most affinity towards will have the same effect.
Spending 6-10 minutes per musical or producer seems criminal, until you simply appreciate the tidbits for what they are. They're like little gems. Fragments of shows that you yearn to see ALL of...
...so let me editorialize for a second.
All musicals should be filmed once with their original casts, if only for posterity. I own "Sunday In The Park With George" and "Sweeney Todd", two exemplary musicals (covered here) and nice DVD's to own. What I wouldn't give for an "Evita" (not covered here) with Lupone and Patinkin, or the original cast of "Rent". There. Editorial done.
Speaking of "Rent", the final fifteen to twenty minutes of the movie are an emotional tidal wave. Seeing Jonathan Larson's last day of work on video...watching him make his last milk shake at the Moondance Diner...and then finding out he dies right before previews, is not heartbreaking, it's heart-shattering.
That segment leads into the piece on 9/11. Somber and a little creepy, as you've seen almost six hours of the busiest intersections on Earth suddenly empty, a modern ghost town.
The filmmakers then pull off a terrific stunt. They show the post 9/11 commercial encouraging people to come back to NY. It echoes the one from over two decades prior, yet is defiant, proud and yes, a little inspiring.
A quick cut to "Hairspray", specifically to the finale which may be the single most energetic song to ever grace the boards, and then summing it all up with "Wicked", a musical I coincidentally just saw three weeks ago (and loved), made for an amazing viewing experience and I could not recommend this any more highly.
Now, for those of you who DO own this, my copy is plagued by a jittery video (with pristine audio) across all three discs. No one else has mentioned this, so perhaps my case is isolated...
One last request: please watch the rehearsal "bonus" footage with Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth, working on their song from Wicked called, "For Good." Watching and listening to these two outstanding singers tentatively creating these performances, intercut with footage from the final result, sent shivers up my spine.
40 of 40 people found the following review helpful
For the Broadway lover1 May 2008
Michael P. Nolan
- Published on Amazon.com
One year for my birthday I received a trio of products based on Michael Kantor's documentary "Broadway: the American Musical." I received the book, the 5 CD set, and the DVD set as well.
I absolutely love them.
I've been doing theatre for over twenty years and I have both Bachelors and Masters degrees in theatre. I have a special love for the musical. This film goes into detail from the earliest days of Broadway, hitting the highlights from Ziegfeld and Cohen to Wicked. The story moves chronologically, but also finds themes: the commercialization of Broadway, the difficulty of mounting new productions, and the evolution of the artistic form.
Hosted by Julie Andrews, it shows a lot of archival footage, especially in the later chapters, juxtaposed with recent interviews. It's wonderful to see Jerry Orbach in the original Chicago and then hear his memories of the play in an interview taped before his death. There are very few films from those old days, but luckily so many numbers from musicals were featured on shows like The Ed Sullivan Show and are included here. It's also fun to see what Times Square looked like pre-Gulianni.
Extras include a behind the scenes look at Wicked and an early performance of Jonathan Larson's song "Sunday." Also included are additional interviews from many of Broadway's finest.
If I had one criticism it would be that it's not long enough to include all of my favorite shows, but I can live with that. It's really for the Broadway crowd, but if you're in the crowd you'll love it, and you'll want to pick up the book and CDs too.
50 of 55 people found the following review helpful
Fantastic! The definitive lullaby of Broadway.11 Oct 2004
- Published on Amazon.com
I saw a press copy of the series and was absolutely awestruck. It covers the history of the Broadway musical from its origins to present day, and manages to tell both the big stories and the little-known gems of performers, composers etc whose names have since faded from popular memory. It's very PBS-like to use something so inherently American (the Broadway musical) to tell the story of our cultural history, as they did with the Baseball series, the Jazz series etc. But it works beautifully, and the series is much more than just a collection of performance clips (if that's all you want, there are plenty of greatest-hits packages on the market). The PBS series is the real deal.
One thing that really impressed me is the amount of film footage the filmmakers managed to find of original shows (some of the old stuff in color - amazing!). Many thanks to whoever had the foresight to film this stuff and save it for posterity, and congrats to the filmmakers for hunting it down and giving it a proper showcase. They also scored interviews with all the Broadway heavy-hitters, and got them to really talk instead of just repeating their old stories. I loved seeing Michael Kidd, who talked about the "dese, dem and dose" characters in "Guys and Dolls" - himself in an old-school New York street accent! And Jerry Mitchell's story about seeing "A Chorus Line," learning the opening combination, landing a role and going on tour gave me chills.
Overall, a major achievement for PBS, a huge delight for theater buffs like myself, and a wonderful introduction to musical theater for anyone who thinks Broadway is just a street in Manhattan. One complaint: why does the Jazz series get 19 hours and Broadway only 6? I would've liked to have seen more of everything. A+++.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Great18 Jan 2008
- Published on Amazon.com
It's an ambitious project. The only trouble is, you don't want it to end. There are snippets of plays that just whet the appetite for more. It is a nostalgic walk down Memory Lane even if most of the plays opened before you were born! Julie Andrews is perfect as the spokesperson and the subject matter makes you feel proud to be not only American, but human. For all our faults, we do know; humor, heartbreak, and romance, and manage to find enduring ways to put them to unforgettable melodies, abiding lyrics and magnificantly choreographed dance. A well deserved tribute to the American Broadway Musical.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Broadway for Dummies.26 Feb 2006
- Published on Amazon.com
...and being a self-professed "dummy" on the American Musical Theater I found this sort of "Broadway History 101" to be, at best, an entertaining starting point. I believe director Michael Kantor was handicapped from the start since the whole history of the "Great White Way" encompasses such a huge array of giants and geniuses (Ziegfeld, Jolson, Gershwin...) that at a mere six hours, the documentary feels like being on a bus tour speeding at 90 miles an hour. That odd feeling is magnified with Episode Four: "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'(1943-1960), the single most important gem in the chest. As been noted elsewhere, that golden era of the fabulous "Book Musicals" which produced an unmatchable run of landmark classics like "Oklahoma" and "My Fair Lady" could have alone been given a six hour treatment instead of this set's rushed, caffeinated hour. Clearly, the episode in Broadway parlance "lays an egg" and compromises this documentary's overall quality.
Still, there is fun to be had here and the filmmakers manage to skirt PBS' tendency to turn a giddy subject into a glum funeral march. Julie Andrews is an exquisite host and I disagree with criticism about the high amount of movie clips used in episodes One through Three. Movies of the 1930's in particular the early "talkies" appropriated so much of Broadway's luster and lore it seems only natural to use them. I also loved the novel use of a song's lyrics by showing the words playfully dancing in an about a sheet of music or a photograph. And best of all, the "talking heads" used here all have something interesting to say with humor and clarity- a key element missing in, say, Ken Burn's "Jazz."