PBS has shown time and again that it is the last bastion of true kid friendly programming on television. It has also shown just as many times why it is the last true bastion of worthwhile family friendly programming with series such as Nova, Great Performances, and Nature. Now, the network has shown yet again why it is one of the best networks out there with its six-episode miniseries, Broadway: The American Musical.
Broadway: The American Musical is just one more feather in the cap of what is not just a great television network, but a virtual American institution in itself. This six part documentary series takes audiences on a journey through time. It takes them from Broadway’s roots in the famed Ziegfeld Follies up to modern day Broadway. Host Julie Andrews was an excellent choice to lead audiences on this musical journey through not just Broadway’s history, but also America’s history. Being a seasoned veteran of both screen and stage, Andrews makes the entire presentation worth experiencing. The inclusion of interviews with other professionals from around the entertainment world (E.g. Mel Brooks, Carol Channing, Tim Robbins, etc.) makes the story even more interesting. There’s even discussion on some of the greatest names in Broadway’s history, including: the famed Gershwin brothers, George and Ira, Cole Porter, and of course Rogers and Hart just to name a few. The stories shared around these figures illustrate not only their careers, but the influence of their works on America through each one’s career. They also serve to illustrate just how important each one was and still is today to both the entertainment world and the world in general.
One of the most interesting of the stories in the special comes in its third episode. The song, ‘Buddy Can You Spare a dime’ is discussed early on in this segment. It’s noted that the song was a response to what was going on in the Great Depression. And if it hadn’t been included in a Broadway play, the powers that be might have kept this extremely important song from every having become known to anyone. It shows the power of the unseen men in suits even back then. And that it resonated so much with American audiences today shows its continued musical and cultural importance, especially in this nation’s current economic and political state. From this point, the program expands on this topic, explaining how musical theater increasingly became the voice of Americans as they weren’t able to voice their own opinions openly. In simple terms, it shows how musical theater really became the voice of the voiceless, so to speak.
The story behind ‘Buddy Can You Spare a Dime’ is just one of so many at which audiences will amaze. Equally interesting are the stories of how Disney helped to bring Broadway into a new age and of a working class man’s rise to fame with his original play, “Rent”, his untimely death, and the reaction to his play and passing. That moment alone will leave any viewer feeling at least somewhat emotional. It makes for one of the documentary’s more memorable moments. Just as memorable as that moment are the extra performances included in the triple-disc set as bonus features. Each disc includes bonus performances of acts from each highlighted era. They are more than just bonus footage. They serve to help illustrate the type of performances being held during each era. And the very fact that the oldest of footage has stood the test of time so well is just as impressive as the stories included throughout the program’s length.
The stories and the footage together make for quite the viewing experience for any Broadway lover. There is at least one more factor that makes this set the complete item for fans of the theater. That factor is the set’s packaging. PBS has hit the mark on the head with the set’s packaging. All three discs included in the set are placed on their own spot inside the set’s box. The first two discs are placed back to back on opposite sides of an insert, while the third disc is placed on the backside of the box. Placing the discs in this fashion protects all three and thus increases their longevity. Looking at the set from this vantage point to that of the presentation itself, PBS has assembled a documentary that is fitting both for students of the theater arts and of any lover of the theater. It’s available now. It can be ordered online direct via PBS’ online store, at http://www.shoppbs.org.
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