Mayor Michael Bloomberg kicked off the festivities at the Shubert, whose audience boasted vocalist Michael Feinstein, actress Phyllis Newman, composers Amanda Green and Mary Rodgers and dancer-choreographer Jacques d'Amboise. In a brief speech, Mayor Bloomberg explained that Broadway and television are "two quintessential art forms that have flourished in New York and add enormously to our economy," adding how perfectly the two blend together in the new six-part series. Bloomberg, a long-time supporter of PBS, refused to comment on the amount of money he has donated to the network throughout the years, joking, "I do have 300,000 tote bags in my closet though."
Tony Award winner Ben Vereen and Wicked composer Stephen Schwartz then took to the Shubert stage to perform a song from Schwartz's Pippin, which opened on Broadway in 1972. Vereen and Schwartz dueted on that show's opening number, "Magic to Do."
Bill Baker, the chief executive director of WNET 13 and WLIW 21, expressed thanks to the evening's host, Julie Andrews ("true Broadway royalty"), and the three actors who would later perform live — Mary Testa, Rebecca Luker and Patrick Cassidy. While holding his headshot in front of his face, Baker joked that he had always dreamed about performing on Broadway in his favorite show, A Chorus Line. Harvey Fierstein's instantly recognizable voice was heard through the speakers, grilling Baker about his credentials. Fierstein then read a list of the many sponsors of the groundbreaking PBS presentation.
Host Julie Andrews entered the stage to a rapturous applause and said she had always wished to be able to tell the story of "one of my favorite things — the Broadway musical." Andrews gave credit to the Broadway theatre for igniting her award-winning American career, and said that younger generations are missing out on what Broadway has to offer. "We need to nourish the art form and promote it to new generations," said the actress. Andrews happily announced that an educational guide will be distributed to schools throughout the country to coincide with the documentary's television broadcast.
Selected excerpts from the six-hour film were then presented on a giant screen, including segments focusing on the life and work of Cole Porter; the musicals of Comden and Green, notably On the Town; and Lerner and Loewe's masterpiece, My Fair Lady. Featuring rarely scene performance clips, the documentary also intersperses dozens and dozens of interviews with Broadway writers and performers. Jac Venza, producer of the "Great Performances" series, offered a few remarks, commenting that the estimated television audience for the premiere broadcast of the documentary would fill the Shubert Theatre for 13 years. He then introduced the evening's three performers, the aforementioned Testa, Luker and Cassidy, who paid tribute to the careers of, respectively, Ethel Merman, Marilyn Miller and producer David Merrick.
Testa, after reading a quote about Merman once said by Irving Berlin, delivered a belty rendition of Berlin's "You Can't Get a Man with a Gun." Luker charmed the audiences with her soaring soprano, offering Miller's signature tune, "Look for the Silver Lining." And, Patrick Cassidy bound onto the stage to deliver the 42nd Street classic, "Lullaby of Broadway."
"Broadway: The American Musical" director Michael Kantor offered the final remarks of the evening and thanked all who were involved in the arduous ten year journey to create the epic documentary. He also introduced the final set of film clips, which included in-depth looks at the creation of A Chorus Line, which reinvigorated Broadway in the 1970's, and the arrival of the Disney musicals: Beauty and the Beast, Aida and the epic The Lion King.
Michael Kantor's "Broadway: The American Musical" will debut on Thirteen/WNET Oct. 19-21, 9-11 PM ET. The first evening will offer Episode One (Give My Regards to Broadway, 1893-1927) and Episode Two (Syncopated City, 1919-1933); the second night will show Episode Three (I Got Plenty O' Nuttin', 1930-1942) and Episode Four (Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin', 1943-1960); and the final evening will broadcast Episode Five (Tradition, 1957-1979) and Episode Six (Putting It Together, 1980-2004). For more information, visit www.pbs.org/broadway.