Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There [2003]

Genre: Documentary, History, Music
It's not a comprehensive survey of the American musical theater, but Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There is an invaluable and moving salute to the art form composed of interviews with the people who were there in the 1940s through the 1960s. There are too many to list, but they include John Raitt, Angela Lansbury, Hume Cronyn, Kitty Carlisle Hart, Carol Channing, Jerry Orbach, Robert Goulet, Robert Morse (even he's gotten old!), Jerry Herman, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Stephen Sondheim, and Harold Prince. There are also some rare performance clips, such as Ethel Merman in Gypsy, Patricia Morison in Kiss Me Kate, and Angela Lansbury in Mame, as well as more familiar television performances, but very few film versions (for either authenticity or rights reasons). Director Rick McKay's focus, however, is on evocative stills, a few too many shots of the city, and most of all the words from the stars themselves. Fact is, because Broadway shows are a live performance medium, there simply isn't a lot of footage available, which is why it's a treat--no, it's an obligation--that we hear the stories from the people themselves. It's the best way the form will survive. After a bit of a slow start, the interviews cover the culture of Broadway, hanging out at Walgreen's and Sardi's, taking a show on the road, and thoughts about the current generation. (Broadway in this case refers to the location in New York rather than the musical-theater genre, so non-musicals are a major part of the discussion.) Broadway: The Golden Age had a limited theatrical run in 2004, and there will be inevitable comparisons to Broadway: The American Musical, the six-hour series that played on PBS in the fall of that same year. The PBS series is much longer (especially counting the DVDs' bonus interviews) and unlike The Golden Age, it attempts to be a comprehensive survey of 100 years of American musical theater. The ambition is admirable, but often hard to live up to. The Golden Age offers more rare footage, and a more powerful sense of nostalgia throughout the interviews. On the downside, there's no real structure to the film other than grouping the interviews by random subject, and director McKay relies too much on his own personal experiences as a jumping-off point. But it's a worthwhile, often passionate film that captures a priceless glimpse at a way of life as lived by so many memorable figures whose like will never be seen again. --David Horiuchi

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