THIRTEEN's Broadway: The American Musical Returns to PBS Tonight, 10/7
Today, with musicals such as THE BOOK OF MORMON enjoying phenomenal box office success, revivals like The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess delighting new generations, and musical stage versions of popular films such as Once and Newsies dominating the Tony Awards, Broadway is proving yet again that its vitality and magic endure. Nominated for five 2005 Primetime Emmy Awards and winner of two, including Outstanding Nonfiction Series, THIRTEEN's landmark Broadway: The American Musical returns tonight, October 7 at 10 p.m., and continues on six consecutive Sundays through November 11 (check local listings).
The first comprehensive documentary series on the history of the American musical created for television, Broadway: The American Musical is a co-production of Ghost Light Films, THIRTEEN, NHK, and the BBC in association with Carlton International. The series was produced and directed by Michael Kantor, whose credits include Make 'Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America, Give Me the Banjo and Quincy Jones: In the Pocket for the American Masters series.
Julie Andrews, Academy Award-winning star of stage, film and television - and public television's unofficial "ambassador for the Broadway musical" - is the series host. In her introduction to the series' companion book, Andrews fondly recalled, "I was so pleased that Michael [Kantor] asked me to participate because the Broadway musical has been a passion of mine for so long. It was about time, truthfully, for this kind of attention to be paid to such an influential art form. There is something visceral about the appeal of a great American musical...it just grabs you."
Broadway: The American Musical tells two stories: the 100-year history of musical theater and the story of its relationship to 20(th)-century American life. Kantor's chronological approach begins with the immigrant experience at the turn of the century, when a melting pot of voices and styles gave rise to a popular new form of entertainment. The series ends with contemporary Broadway, where big-budget new productions and revivals of classic favorites compete side by side for box office success.
When the series first aired in 2004, People Magazine named the series one of the "Top Ten Television Programs" of the year. Matt Zoller Seitz in the Newark Star-Ledger, declared, "'Broadway' is such an immense and immensely enjoyable documentary with a cheery relentlessness [legendary producer Florenz] Ziegfeld himself might have appreciated." And Nancy DeWolf Smith in the Wall Street Journal affirmed, "'Broadway' unfurls a vivid history of America itself in the last century." Ed Siegel in the Boston Globe raved, "'Broadway: The American Musical' beautifully create(s) a near perfect blend of entertainment and art."
Peppered throughout are legendary moments in Broadway history: George Gershwin's sojourn to Folly Island, where he began to compose his legendary score for Porgy and Bess; the thrill of Oklahoma!'s opening night; comedienne Fanny Brice's heart-grabbing performance of "My Man." From the titillating yet artful spectacle of The ZiegfeldFollies to Ethel Merman's brassy rendition of "I've Got Rhythm," and from Julie Taymor's visionary staging of The Lion King to a behind-the-scenes look at Wicked's opening night, the series enlightens, educates and offers unique insight into this truly American art form.
Broadway: The American Musical assembled first-person accounts from dozens of theater luminaries: writers, lyricists, producers, performers, directors, and critics. Among them are Mel Brooks, Carol Channing, Jerry Herman, Margo Jefferson, John Kander, Joel Grey, Harvey Fierstein, John Lahr, Donna McKechnie, Chita Rivera, Stephen Sondheim, Tommy Tune, Ben Vereen, and many others. The many late greats interviewed for the series include Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Brendan Gill, Peter Stone, "Ziegfeld Girl" Dana O'Connell, Al Hirschfeld, Fred Ebb, Arthur Laurents, Jerry Orbach, Kitty Carlisle Hart, John Raitt, Gerald Schoenfeld, Marvin Hamlisch, and Frances Gershwin Godowsky.
"There's no place in the world like Broadway - it's the entertainment engine that drives New York. Its theaters are what turned Times Square into the "Crossroads of the World" says Michael Kantor. "We take you inside those theaters for the most important performances of the last one hundred years, and we were fortunate to be able to film many of the titans of Broadway telling their stories in their own words."
The series traverses a century of national events with seismic reverberations on the Broadway stage, including recorded sound, the rise of Hollywood, the Great Depression, both World Wars, labor relations, the advent of television, civil rights, the sexual revolution, and the AIDS crisis. Each of the six films demonstrates how America's ever-changing cultural landscape is reflected back from the Broadway stage.
To bring this story to life, Broadway: The American Musical uses an extraordinary collection of archival footage, newsreels, private home movies, original cast recordings, still photos, diary excerpts, personal correspondences, rare television and audio archives, and autobiographical material.
Broadway: The American Musical is geared toward audiences of all ages, offering insights from Irving Berlin, Bert Williams and Yip Harburg through to Agnes DeMille, Harold Prince and George C. Wolfe, while spanning a century of musical productions from Show Boat, Anything Goes and On the Town to Company, Hair and The Producers.
"With this series, we not only showcase the magic of the musical theater, we discover its underlying connection to history," says executive producer David Horn. "And it's a history underscored by some of the most memorable music ever written - songs that are brash, unforgettably passionate and indelibly American."
Kantor also co-authored a lavishly illustrated companion book, Broadway: The American Musical with series co-writer and NYU Graduate Acting Associate Chair Laurence Maslon; an updated paperback edition is now available from Applause Books with an introduction by Julie Andrews. The BROADWAY series, accompanied by hours of extra material, is being reissued on Blu-ray by PBS Home Video, for release on October 16. A dynamic Web site and extensive educational print materials are accessible at pbs.org/broadway.
For 50 years, THIRTEEN has been making the most of the rich resources and passionate people of New York and the world, reaching millions of people with on-air and online programming that celebrates arts and culture, offers insightful commentary on the news of the day, explores the worlds of science and nature, and invites students of all ages to have fun while learning.
Broadway: The American Musical is a co-production of Ghost Light Films, THIRTEEN, NHK, and BBC in association with Carlton International. Directed by Michael Kantor, the series was produced by Kantor with Jeff Dupre and Sally Rosenthal. The series was written by Marc Fields, Michael Kantor, Laurence Maslon, and JoAnn Young. Bill O'Donnell served as supervising producer, with Jac Venza and David Horn as executive producers.
Funding for the series was provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Dorothy and Lewis Cullman, The Shubert Organization, the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Cornelius V. Starr Fund for Arts Programming, the Ira and Leonore Gershwin Philanthropic Fund, Judith B. Resnick, Vivian Milstein, Rosalind P. Walter, Bob Boyett, the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust, the Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation Inc., Mary and Marvin Davidson, Allen & Company, Susan R. Malloy and the Sun Hill Foundation, the DuBose and Dorothy Heyward Memorial Fund, the Karen A. and Kevin W. Kennedy Foundation, Mary Rodgers and Henry Guettel, public television viewers, and PBS.