"Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy," with Footage of Barbra Streisand, Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel, Airs on PBS
By Andrew Gans
"Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy," a new 90-minute documentary by Michael Kantor, airs as part of PBS' "Great Performances" series Jan. 1 at 9:30 PM ET; check local listings.
Narrated by Joel Grey, the program, according to PBS press notes, "explores the unique role of Jewish composers and lyricists in the creation of the modern American musical. Featuring interviews and conversations with some of the greatest composers and writers of the Broadway stage, 'Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy' showcases the work of some of the nation's pre-eminent creators of musical theatre."
Among those spotlighted in the documentary are Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, George and Ira Gershwin, Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Kurt Weill, Sheldon Harnick, Jerry Bock, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Stephen Schwartz and Jule Styne, among others.
The program also features footage of performances by David Hyde Pierce (Spamalot), Matthew Broderick and Kelli O'Hara (Nice Work if You Can Get It), Zero Mostel (Fiddler on the Roof), Betty Comden and Adolph Green (On the Town), Nathan Lane (The Producers), Al Jolson (Sinbad), Fanny Brice (The Great Ziegfeld), Barbra Streisand (Funny Girl), Joel Grey (Cabaret), Dick Van Dyke (Bye Bye Birdie), Danny Kaye (Lady in the Dark), Ethel Merman (Gypsy) and Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel (Wicked).
The film, according to PBS, is the "first of its kind to examine the phenomenon that, over the 50-year period of its development, the songs of the Broadway musical were created almost exclusively by Jewish Americans. These are the popular songs that our nation took to war, sang to their children at bedtime, and whistled while waiting for the bus; taken in total they comprise the vast majority of what is now commonly referred to as 'The American Songbook.'"
The film also features interviews with Arthur Laurents, Sheldon Harnick, John Kander, Andrew Lippa, Stephen Schwartz, Phyllis Newman, Charles Strouse, Harold Prince, Maury Yeston, Mary Rodgers Guettel, Ernie Harburg, Marc Shaiman, David Shire, Stephen Sondheim, Mel Brooks, Stephen Schwartz and many others.
Rare clips include Irving Berlin singing "God Bless America," rehearsals for Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim's Gypsy, and original South Pacific star William Tabbert singing "You've Got to be Carefully Taught" with Richard Rodgers at the piano.
The film was produced, written and directed by Michael Kantor, whose "Broadway: The American Musical" series was originally viewed by an estimated 15 million people, and won the 2005 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Nonfiction Series.
"Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy" is an Albert M. Tapper production, and Barbara Brilliant is creator and executive producer. For "Great Performances," Bill O'Donnell is series producer, and David Horn is executive producer.
For more information visit pbs.org/gperf.
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