‘Great Performances: Havana Time Machine’ Hits Almost All The Right Notes In Its Recent Home Release

Courtesy: PBS/Public Media Distribution

PBS’ cultural arts series Great Performances has for years brought to audiences what are in fact some of the greatest performances from one arts medium to another. From jazz to opera to even hip-hop and R&B and more, Great Performances has exposed audiences to worlds that they otherwise might never have experienced. This past December, the long-running series continued to live up to that positive reputation with the presentation of the Latin tinged concert Havana Time Machine. This roughly 50-minute program follows famed Grammy Award-winning Cuban musician Raul Malo as he visits his home nation and puts on a star studded concert for local residents. The journey that precedes the concert is itself one key part of what makes this program such a joy to experience. That does not mean that the concert itself is not important. Quite the opposite actually. It is very important, and will be discussed later. For all of the good that this program gives audiences in its new home release, it is not without at least one negative. That one negative is the lack of any program guide other than the one on the disc. This may seem minor on the surface, but in the bigger picture of the presentation, is key in its own way, and in turn will be discussed later, too. Even with that one negative to note, it is not enough to make the program unwatchable. It would have been nice to have had that one element, but even without it, the concert and the pre-concert tour together are enough to make this program worth the watch and then some.

Havana Time Machine is a successful new concert recording from PBS’ hit cultural arts series Great Performances. Originally released on DVD December 12, 2017, this recording hits almost all the right notes in its home presentation. That statement is supported in part through the tour of Havana hosted by Grammy Award-winning Cuban musician Raul Malo. the tour precedes the main feature concert that makes main body of the presentation. During his tour, audiences get to see firsthand some of the buildings and streets of Havana while also getting some mini performances from a small handful of artists including Eliades Ochoa (Buena Vista Social Club), Ivette Cepeda and Sweet Lizzy Project. Cepeda’s intimate acoustic performance of ‘Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps’ alongside Ochoa is so moving and enthralling. Malo’s discussion with Sweet Lizzy Project about getting its music distributed without major retailers couples with its performance to give audiences even more enjoyment. The introduction of Cuba’s art institute and his performance of ‘Besame Mucho’ with some of the institute’s students is another highlight of the program’s pre-concert tour. It is just one more of the highlights of the pre-concert tour that when joined with the other features, makes for plenty of enjoyment in whole as a warm-up for the big show. Speaking of the big show, it is another of the recording’s key elements. However, there is one part of the concert that cannot be ignored that is problematic. That one issue is its lack of a program guide outside of the guide presented on disc.

The lack of a physical program guide may not seem overly important on the surface to the whole of Havana Time Machine. A close examination however, shows it plays its own important part to the concert’s overall presentation. The addition of a physical program guide, on one level, allows audiences to follow along with the concert and in turn know which song (and artist) is which. That is the most basic level of its importance. On another level, having artist and song titles could be that proverbial door that opens audiences to artists and music about which they otherwise would not have known. Having those names and song titles as reference points, audiences unfamiliar with either would be able to start their searches for more music and information. To that end, the lack of a physical program guide does detract from the recording’s presentation to a point. Luckily though, that impact is not so much that it makes the program unwatchable. The program’s primary concert feature couples with the pre-show tour to make the recording in whole well worth the watch.

The concert feature is enjoyable in part because of its venue. Rather than being hosted at a standard arena or other modern venue, it is instead held at a venue that once was run by a beer company. While Malo notes that the jungle reclaimed the venue in the century since the location was abandoned by that company, it is clear that it has been cared for and turned into quite the unique concert venue. The intimate setting makes the concert feel that much looser in its energy from one act to the next. Those varied acts are another part of what makes the concert feature so enjoyably. Malo himself takes part in the performance, but is just one of the acts tapped for the show. Roberto Fonseca performs at the concert along with Ochoa and Sweet Lizzy Project to round out the show that is capped off with a full-on star-studded performance of ‘Guantanamera.’ The finale leaves audiences feeling fulfilled, but still wanting for more in the best way possible. Keeping that in mind, hopefully PBS and Public Media Distribution will release the full concert sooner rather than later, as there’s no doubt that performance (and the rest featured here) would easily couple with any others left out for an even more enjoyable show. Even with the material that is here in mind, it couples with the pre-show tour of Havana and its related performances for a recording that hits nearly every right note with Latin music fans.

Great Performances: Havana Time Machine is a program that definitely lives up to the “Great Performances.” It is a presentation that time and again will hit almost all of the right notes with Latin music fans as is evidenced in part through the recording’s pre-show tour of Hanava. The tour takes viewers through the streets and even countryside of Havana and comes complete with a handful of mini-performances. The lack of a physical program guide does detract from the concert’s viewing experience, but not so much that it makes the program unwatchable. It just would have been nice to have had one instead of relying on the on-disc program. The main concert feature included in the recording rounds out its most important elements, and is certain to entertain audiences just as much as the pre-show tour. Keeping all of this in mind, Great Performances: Havana Time Machine hits almost all of the right notes, making the program in whole a presentation that any Latin music fan will appreciate. It is available now and can be ordered direct via PBS’ online store. More information on this and other episodes of Great Performances is available online now at:

Website: http://www.pbs.org/greatperformances

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/GreatPerformances

Twitter: http://twitter.com/GPerfPBS

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PBS Releases ‘Great Performances: Havana Time Machine’ On DVD

Courtesy: PBS/Public Media Distribution

PBS is taking audiences on a musical trip through Cuba’s capital this winter with a new episode of its fan favorite cultural arts series.

Great PerformancesHavana Time Machine is available now on DVD.  Released Dec. 12, 2017, the roughly hour-long program follows musician Raul Malo as he walks Havana’s streets, examining the city’s (and nation’s) cultural history.  Along the way, there are performances with well-known Cuban musicians such as Eliades Ochoa (Buena Vista Social Club), Sweet Lizzie Project, Ivette Cepeda, Roberto Fonseca, The Mavericks and others.

Born to Cuban parents in Miami, Malo said of his journey that it held a special importance in a recent interview about the experience.

“Like most Americans, Cuba seems like a dream, a land of rhythm and rum, of Ricky Ricardo and revolutionaries, baseball greats, gangsters, casinos, classic cars and cigars…But for me, it’s the home I’ve never known, the place that my parents were formed, who in turn formed me,” Malo said.  “The roots of my musical soul have been reaching for Cuban soil my entire life, and now…the reality is beyond my wildest dream.”

Great PerformancesHavana Time Machine was produced by Todd Jarrell and Todd Mayo (co-producers of PBS’ acclaimed series Bluegrass Underground).  It was directed and edited by Randy Hale and James Burton Yockey, and co-produced in Cuba by Josue Lopez Lozano. It is retailing for MSRP of $24.99, but can be ordered at a reduced price of $19.99 online direct via PBS’ online store.

More information on this and other episodes of Great Performances is available online at:


Website: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/GreatPerformances

Twitter: http://twitter.com/GPerfPBS


To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

PBS’ Broadway History Documentary Hits All The Right Notes

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

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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