Broadway: The American Musical

PBS's 'Broadway'

Musicals blow the dust off the soul,” Mel Brooks remarks in the first moments of Broadway: The American Musical, tossing out an exuberant metaphor well suited to this terrific PBS documentary, which blasts the dust off priceless show-biz anecdotes and bits of historical footage chronicling the quintessential American art form. Premiering October 19­-21 (check local listings), this handsome and well-informed six-part film traces the development of musical theater through the course of the twentieth century and up to last season, rounding things off with a few voyeuristic shots from backstage on the opening night of Wicked. Starting with its host, Sound of Music icon Julie Andrews, Broadway revels in star allure: Rex Harrison throwing a fit of pique while rehearsing My Fair Lady. Tim Robbins explaining the significance of the 1936 agitprop show The Cradle Will Rock. Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick-as if we had not seen them enough already! But at the same time, the series places entertainment trends and innovations in the context of America’s broader experience, making it as appropriate for history buffs as for showtune junkies, not to mention all those people-you know who you are-who just can’t remember which one was Lerner and which one was Loewe.

Producer Michael Kantor honed his craft laboring on documentaries with the brothers Burns (Ken and Ric) and his own work sticks with the siblings’ favored stylistic...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author

Celia Wren is Commonweal’s media and stage critic.