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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Chuck Goes Good Or So It Seems In New WordGirl Episode

Courtesy: PBS/PBS Kids

WordGirl and her trusted sidekick Captain Huggyface are back with another great brand new adventure for audiences.  In this brand new adventure, WordGirl and Captain Huggyface have to face the evil Dr. Two-Brains again.  And this time, he’s not alone.  Also in Episode #503, Granny May is back with another evil plan.  And of course, Bo Handsome and his trio of contestants are back for another fun episode of everybody’s favorite vocab building game show, “May I Have A Word?”

The first half of Episode #503 opens as Chuck the Evil Sandwich Making Guy is buying (yes, buying) items for sandwiches.  Much to her surprise, Chuck even shows WordGirl his receipt for everything when she accuses him of stealing them.  In her surprise, WordGirl asks Chuck what happened to his mom’s station wagon.  He tells her that he had always yearned for a lunch wagon just like in the old west.  So he converted the station wagon into his own lunch wagon from which he could sell his sandwiches.  After he leaves, Word Girl and Captain Huggyface fly off to keep watch over the city.  While they keep vigil, WordGirl tells Captain Huggyface how she has yearned to tell her friend Violet about her secret identity.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Dr. Two-Brains and his henchmen are driving, when they spot Chuck’s lunch wagon loaded with cheese.  So he pursues it in a plan to hijack it.  Just as Chuck thinks he’s getting away from Dr. Two-Brains, his lunch wagon breaks down, allowing Dr. Two-Brains to catch him.

While all of this is going on, Becky and Violet are at Becky’s house, sharing their dreams.  When Violet tells Becky of her dreams, Becky tells her that she should pursue her dreams.  Then Violet asks Becky about her dreams.  And just as Becky is about to reveal her secret identity to Violet, she’s told by one of the townspeople about Dr. Two-Brains’ plot.  So she has to race off to stop him.  It turns out that not only does she have to stop Dr. Two-Brains, but also Chuck, as he proves that he’s not all good after all.  The confrontation comes down to an old west style standoff, leading to the defeat of both Dr. Two-Brains and Chuck.  Having beaten both bad guys again, WordGirl heads back home to where Violet is still waiting for Becky.  Luckily, Becky/WordGirl is able to come up with a line about where she has been and what she was going to tell Violet, instead of her secret identity, protecting both herself and Violet.

As the first half of the episode ends, audiences get another brand new episode of “May I Have A Word?”  In today’s new episode, the contestants have to define the word, Clutch.  Emily gets the definition right, and wins an official WordGirl dune buggy.

The show moves back to the second half of the episode after this intermission.  In the second half of Episode #503, Granny May is back again.  This time, Granny May has devised a plan that would have made Mr. Big proud.  She has developed a plan to make accessories for everybody’s pets.  What the townspeople don’t know is that Granny May’s pet accessories are in reality mind control devices.  She is using them to get everybody’s pets to steal from their owners for her.  There’s even a reference to Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video in this episode that parents will love as the pets’ minds are controlled.  The morning after everybody’s stuff is stolen, Granny May sinks to a new low, trying to frame Becky’s friend, Violet.  So Becky sets out to try and figure out what happened.  Later that night, she does discover what happened when her dad takes Captain Huggyface’s accessory to wash it.  He puts it around his neck to carry it to the wash, when his mind is suddenly controlled.  So WordGirl follows Mr. Botsford and discovers that Granny May really is behind the thefts.  Thankfully, one of the cats there unwittingly sits on Granny May’s mind controller, releasing all the animals from their trance.  Everything is returned and Violet’s name is cleared.

The show moves back to the bonus round of “May I Have A Word” from here, where Emily correctly associates the definition of Clutch to the proper picture, winning her a sand dune to go with her new dune buggy.  Captain Huggyface closes out the episode by showing what the word, perturbed means.

This episode may have aired in some markets and not others.  Audiences should check their local listings to see which new episode is scheduled to air each day.

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it or its companion page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reel-Reviews/381028148587141.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

WordGirl Wins Again With More New Episodes

Courtesy: PBS/PBS Kids

Education is at a pivotal point right now.  With schools undergoing so many changes right now, educational television is so much more important than ever before.  Thank goodness for PBS Kids.  PBS Kids has some of the most enjoyable and worthwhile educational programming around.  One of the really great programs that PBS Kids offers now is WordGirl.  WordGirl teaches kids the value of literacy all while saving her town from evil masterminds.  It’s a wonderful mix of action and learning.  And now, even more new episodes of fun and learning are coming to PBS Kids.  The first of those episodes sees WordGirl face off once again with the evil Dr. Two-Brains and Ms. Question.

The first of the upcoming new WordGirl episodes, “Seize The Cheese”, is a great episode not only because WordGirl faces off once more against her nemesis Dr. Two-Brains, but also because of its emphasis on getting kids physically active.  As this episode opens, everybody is outside savoring the cool Fall weather.  That is everybody except Becky Botsford (A.K.A. WordGirl).  Becky is indoors playing video games.  So her dad confiscates her video game controller and makes her go outside.  Meanwhile, Dr. Two-Brains’ henchmen have broken him out of jail.  Since they did, he agrees to take them apple picking in return.  To his henchmen, apple picking is the best way to savor the weather.

When Dr. Two-Brains tastes the combination of cheese and apples at the orchard, Dr. Two-Brains uses his “Cheese Seizer” to seize all of the nearby cheese.  So Captain Huggyface, WordGirl’s trusted sidekick follows the trail of cheese by himself since Becky is busy with her parents.  In the process, Captain Huggyface gets himself captured, leaving WordGirl to have to search for him herself.  Luckily, Captain Huggyface manages to escape and grab the “Cheese Seizer” to capture Dr. Two-Brains and his henchmen just before WordGirl gets there.

Having saved the day, Episode 501 moves to the equally famed vocab game show, “May I Have a Word?”  In today’s episode, the contestants have to define the word “apprehend.”  Phil gets the definition right and wins a Captain tangent pirate costume.

Getting back to WordGirl, the second half of Episode 501 sees WordGirl have to face off against Ms. Question once again after defeating what she thinks is all of Toby’s robots.  While she’s busy with the robots on one side of town, Ms. Question is robbing a bank on the other side of town.  When the narrator forgets Ms. Question’s name, she is puzzled at how to become better known.  So she comes up with a plan to become a more infamous super villain.  She takes one of the robots that WordGirl hadn’t finished off in her previous battle, and uses it to block the bridge that everybody is using to go to the beach.  She tells WordGirl that she’ll ask everybody a riddle.  And those who answer her riddles will get to cross the bridge.  Anyone who doesn’t will be stranded.  WordGirl challenges Ms. Question to a riddle contest.  Ms. Uses the Riddle of the Sphinx to try and beat WordGirl.  Thanks to T.J. though, WordGirl defeats Ms. Question and allows everybody to go to the beach.

After this episode ends, audiences are treated to the final segment of “May I Have A Word?”  As the show closes, Phil, having won the first segment, must now identify the right picture that defines the word, “Apprehend.”  He picks the right picture, and in turn, wins a Captain Tangent pirate ship to go with his Captain Tangent pirate costume.  And to close out the show, Captain Huggyface offers one last vocabulary word in “anxious.”  He defines it, giving kids one more vocabulary word.

WordGirl airs on PBS Kids nationwide.  Each PBS affiliate airs the show at a different time.  So parents and kids should check their own local listings to see when this new episode will air.

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New PBS Special Is Great For Golfers Of All Ages

Courtesy: PBS

Golf is one of the world’s greatest games.  It is, for that matter, known as “the greatest game ever played.”  Next to football (or soccer as it’s known in the U.S.), golf’s fans number more than any other sport across the world.  Fans know their favorite golfer.  They know their favorite course.  But how many golfers and fans know the history behind the game’s most legendary courses, or of those individuals that built them?  Now thanks to PBS, fans and players of all ages can learn that history in the new special, “Golf’s Grand Design.” 

North Carolina’s PBS affiliate, UNC-TV, will air this special tomorrow night, August 3rd at 10pm.  Those who miss it can still order it online next Tuesday, August 7th at http://www.shoppbs.org.

 “Golf’s Grand Design” is an excellent starting point for fans and golfers of all ages and experience levels.  It clocks in at just under an hour.  That’s not counting the closing credits.  It starts in the sport’s earliest recorded history in Scotland.  The narrator notes that before Scotland, golf’s roots are unknown.

The very first course featured in this special is, of course, St. Andrews.  The program’s narrator notes that this was the very first modern golf course.  From here, the special does something very smart.  Rather than merely jump from course to course and from architect to architect, each architect and course’s segment is preceded by a quote from the architect to be featured.  This lets viewers know which architect is going to be featured.  Kudos to PBS and all involved with bringing the special to life for assembling the program in this manner.  Viewers will learn about the history not only of each architect, but of how each one built his course(s), including his motivation behind building each one in its given form.  Among the many architects featured in the show are:  Charles Blair McDonald, David Ross, and Robert Trent Jones among many others.

In learning how each architect came to build his course(s), viewers will see a rather interesting process.  They will see how golf courses have come full circle from the simple to the grandiose and back to simple again.  The best explanation of this movement comes from a pair of sound bites run early on in the show.  One of the individuals interviewed exclaims of golf, “Half the experience is sharing the time with friends.”  Another noted that “It’s about the exploration of a piece of land.”  Both statements echo a similar mindset.  That mindset is that what makes golf great isn’t how grandiloquent a course is.  What it great is the simple experience of being on the links.  It’s about being with friends and being one with the game and with the course.  This is the mindset that makes the game great.  It’s the mindset that will always make gold the greatest game ever played, and that will always make its many courses just as great.

As a reminder, “Golf’s Grand Design” will air on North Carolina’s PBS affiliate, UNC-TV, tomorrow, Friday August 3rd at 10pm.  The DVD will be available next Tuesday, August 7th.  It can be ordered online at http://www.shoppbs.org.

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it or its companion page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reel-Reviews/381028148587141.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Being Elmo is fuzzy fun for the whole family

He’s red.  He’s fuzzy.  And he’s one of the most beloved characters on television today.  For those who perhaps haven’t already figured it out who is being referenced here, it’s Elmo!  Yes, Sesame Street’s Elmo.  Elmo is just as well known and beloved–if not more than–Big Bird, Oscar The Grouch and the rest of the gang on Sesame Street.  And now, thanks to docurama films and New Video, fans and families world wide finally get a glimpse behind the scenes at the man who has made Elmo a house hold name in the documentary, “Being Elmo:  A Puppeteer’s Journey.”

“Being Elmo:  A Puppeteer’s Journey” is a wonderful, touching look into the life and career of a man who is a star unlike any other.  Kevin Clash is the very body behind Elmo.  His love of the craft and art of puppetry has made what would have otherwise just have been another puppet into a worldwide phenomenon.  Yet in it all, audiences see in this documentary, a man who is entirely humble, and wants only to entertain.  It’s his love for his art that has brought joy to children and adults the world over, including a young terminally ill child.  It’s that same love of performing and entertaining that brought tears to the eyes of not only that child, but to those of Clash himself.  And it’s that same love that has even given Elmo his very own segment in the “new” version of Sesame Street.  That love of the art of puppetry all began thanks to the legend himself, Jim Henson.

Audiences will be enthralled as they experience Clash’s journey from backyard puppet shows to a spot on Captain Kangaroo to his amazing start with Jim Henson’s company after having turned down job offers from Henson himself twice.  Yes, twice.  Most people wouldn’t get a second chance after turning down such a legend only once. But for whatever reason, Henson believed so much in Clash that he gave Clash a third offer.  He offered to let Clash work on his movie, “Labyrinth.”  Clash took the job, and impressed Henson so much that he was offered a spot on Sesame Street.  The story of how Clash eventually became the voice and life of Elmo is just as interesting as the story of how he reached that point.  What’s even more interesting is the impact that he has had to this day as Elmo’s puppeteer.  There are lots of funny moments in that story.  And there’s also an equally touching story of the impact that he and Elmo had on a young, terminally ill child.  Seeing the tears welling up in his own eyes as the little girl smiled while she hugged Elmo will bring even the strongest person to tears, too.

While the documentary about how Kevin Clash came to basically be Elmo is so impressive, one can’t ignore the bonus features included in the documentary.  One might think what could bonus features add to this documentary.  But the bonus features here really do add a whole extra dimension to Kevin’s story.  Audiences learn that a lot of Elmo was influenced by Clash’s own parents.  His parents constantly showed love and support to him.  That love is reflected in Elmo’s love for children.  What’s more, even in public audiences see how genuine Clash is about wanting to make children smile.  It’s another truly touching moment.  On the opposite hand, one of the funniest moments comes when it’s explained that his mother’s love of something as simple as mowing lawns was infused into Elmo.  That childlike love of the simple things in life made Elmo relateable to young audiences. 

Elmo’s relateability to young audiences is wonderfully exhibited in a combination of the bonus features and the final sequence of the documentary.  As the documentary closes, Clash welcomes a young viewer into his office who he took under his wing, just as Kermit Love took Kevin under his own wing years prior.  That young man got his first taste of fame as he joined Clash and the other Sesame Street Puppeteers in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.  He was the actor behind the Baby Bear character in the parade.

“Being Elmo:  A Puppeteer’s Journey” is a wonderful piece of family entertainment.  It does hold a “PG” rating though.  However, parents should note that that is mainly thanks to a clip from the Rosie O’ Donnell Show.  The clip was taking during the height of the Tickle Me Elmo craze.  A star had asked her about getting a Tickle Me Elmo doll.  To that, she joked that she felt like a drug dealer.  Other than that brief moment, “Being Elmo” is an otherwise wonderful documentary for parents and kids alike. 

So much could be written and spoken of this documentary.  But doing so would take entirely too long and would take far too much space.  So audiences would be best to experience it for themselves.  From the story itself, to the equally  entertaining bonus features, “Being Elmo:  A Puppeteer’s Journey” is one of the best documentaries of 2012, if not the best. 

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