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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Musical > Stage > Broadway > Broadway - The American Musical (PBS)

Broadway – The American Musical (PBS Documentary boxed set)


Picture: B-     Sound: C+     Extras: C+     Episodes: B+



It is only in six nearly hour-long parts, but Broadway – The American Musical is one of the richest documentary mini-series about the world of entertainment ever made.  As hosted (very well) by Julie Andrews, this outstanding compilation work traces The Great White Way from its immigrant and cultural-inspired beginnings to its landmark classics and mythical embodiment so large, that it influenced every medium that saw its advent until the Internet.  There is a huge history to cover, so the development of the Rock Opera (no matter where it can be argued began) and other subgenre developments are skipped, but it is remarkable in its thoroughness and offers a portrait that never quits.  The six parts are as follows, with where some key figures arrive:


1)     Give My Regards To Broadway (1893 – 1927) features Florenz Ziegfeld, Fanny Brice, Irving Berlin, George M. Cohan, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II.

2)     Syncopated City (1919 – 1933) features The Gershwins, Eubie Blake, The Marx Brothers, Al Jolson, Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart.

3)     I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’ (1930 – 1942) features Cole Porter, Ethel Merman and Ethel Waters.

4)     Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’ (1943 – 1960) features Rogers and Hammerstein, Adolf Green, Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein.

5)     Tradition (1957 – 1979) features John Kander, Fred Ebb, Hal Prince, Barbra Streisand, Bob Fosse, Stephen Sondheim and Michael Bennett.

6)     Putting It Together (1980 – 2004) features David Merrick, Julie Taymor, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and the newest talents.



Of course, that’s just a drop in the bucket as compared to all the people, information, clips and other content.  Instead of presenting it as something stuffy and distant, the series shows the theater for the great center of creativity and change it has always been.  The influence and progressiveness of the theater in America is underrated and tarred as elitist.  By default, this deconstructs the ugly side of that myth and exposes the truth of how vital this is to world culture.  If you are unaware of what Broadway is all about, this is mandatory.  If you are a fan, this is a vital work.


Marc Fields, Michael Cantor, Lawrence Maslon and JoAnn Young have done an ace of a job writing this out, making this referential beyond belief.  Michael Kantor directed all the new segments for all six parts and all involved here, a very long list of people, have created a real labor of love here.  That is even more so considering all the contributors financially to Public Television, also erroneously written off as elitists.  Only unhappy, miserable people say such things, especially when they are ignorant to greatness.  They especially ought to check this out.


The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image mixes almost every film and video format one can think of, with new segments mixed in and originating from a High Definition source.  Because of the increased frenzy over copyrights, seeing so many key clips in one place is extremely rare and to have them on three DVDs is unreal, especially again at this point.  For PBS, who has issued thousands of titles on home video, this is one of their best-ever releases.  Considering the truly high quality of most of their releases, that is a call with some considerable weight, but it is something to brag about.  The sound is offered in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, but is shocking in that it offers no serious Pro Logic surrounds, the only thing to complain about in this whole set.  As for extras, there are interview snippets in addition to what is see in the main programs on all three discs, usually a couple dozen, as well as three independent clips in their entirety dubbed “additional performances” that are seen only partly in the main programs.  DVD 3 has an additional featurette on the new hit Wicked, included with the feeling that this will join the long legacy of classics and landmark works throughout.  This set deserves some of that light and will hopefully inspire a sequel work.  I just wish I could find the words to say how good this is as a documentary work, except to simply say that this set is a must see!



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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