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VIDEO: BWW Exclusive: Ethel Merman Performs GYPSY Showstopper on PBS' JFK: THE LOST Inaugural Gala


In celebration of John F. Kennedy's upcoming 100th birthday, PBS will present the documentary JFK: THE LOST INAUGURAL GALA during June 2017 (check local listings). The film combines performances from the gala (which was supposed to be televised live but never was because DC was in the grips of a massive snow storm which knocked out power) with commentary by historians and those who were there. Below, BWW has an exclusive sneak peek clip from the broadcast, featuring Ethel Merman performing the GYPSY showstopper "Everything's Coming Up Roses.'

At the time of the gala, Merman was starring on Broadway in GYPSY and Frank Sinatra, who produced the gala, convinced producer Leland Hayward to let her off for the night. The snow was so bad that the legendary star could not make it back to her hotel after rehearsal so she performed in her winter coat! Introduced by Leonard Bernstein, she stopped the show her rousing performance!

JFK: THE LOST INAUGURAL GALA opens a window into the glamour and excitement that descended on the nation's capital for his 1961 inauguration, with a never-before-seen musical event: the Pre-Inaugural Gala produced by and starring Frank Sinatra. It was a star-studded musical celebration videotaped for national broadcast with performances by Sinatra, Ethel Merman, HARRY Belafonte, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Gene Kelly and more. But a colossal blizzard knocked out power in DC, and those show-stopping performances remained in the vaults - until now. Hosted by Phylicia Rashad, JFK: THE LOST INAUGURAL GALA is part of special programming premiering on PBS stations beginning May 28, 2017 (check local listings).

Scheduled to be broadcast on NBC the following week, the gala featured top Hollywood celebrities and some of the greatest musical performers of the era. Producer and host Frank Sinatra, at the peak of his fame, used his considerable influence and power to draw the nation's top talent, even convincing producer Leland Hayward to close two shows on Broadway so Ethel Merman and Laurence Olivier could participate. Sinatra also made a point of featuring African American artists at the gala - Ella Fitzgerald, HARRY Belafonte and Nat King Cole - signaling a more inclusive administration and a new era in the U.S.

On the day of the event, January 19, 1961, the blizzard arrived; many of the performers were stuck in the cavernous National Armory rehearsing all day, unable to rest or change clothes for the evening. The storm knocked out most of the electricity in Washington, although a few generators powered the minimal lights and cameras necessary to tape the production. In the end, it was decided not to broadcast the program.

But now those magical performances can be seen, including Nat King Cole on "The Surrey With the FRINGE on Top" and a poignant "Stardust," Ella Fitzgerald on "Give Me the Simple Life," HARRY Belafonte's "When the Saints Go Marching In," and Sinatra on both "You Make Me Feel So Young" and a heartfelt "The House I Live In." Ethel Merman, who had TAKEN the night off from Gypsy, never made it to the hotel to change after rehearsal because of the snow and had to perform in her plaid winter coat. Gene Kelly brought down the house with a spectacular Irish jig in honor of Kennedy's heritage. Other performances include Jimmy Durante singing "September Song," a KENNEDY family favorite, and Helen Traubel performing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

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