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December 27, 2012 - Image 49

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2012-12-27

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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PBS presents

Broadway Musicals:
A Jewish Legacy.

A

s Sir Robin carols mer-
rily to King Arthur in Monty
Python's Spamalot, "In any
great adventure, if you don't want to lose
... you won't succeed on Broadway if you
don't have any Jews:'
Eric Idle's cheeky lyric, which unfail-
ingly generated knowing guffaws from
Broadway audiences, proves to be
more than a little grounded in truth as
Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy con-
vincingly attests.
From Irving Berlin to Stephen
Sondheim, and from Fanny Brice to
Barbra Streisand, the new 90-minute
documentary by Michael Kantor, creator
of the Emmy-winning series Broadway:
The American Musical, explores the
phenomenon of how Jewish-American
songwriters created a uniquely American
art form. It debuts on PBS's Great
Performances on Tuesday, Jan. 1.
Narrated by Joel Grey, the show fea-
tures interviews and conversations with
some of the greatest composers and
writers of the Broadway stage, includ-
ing Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, George
and Ira Gershwin, Lorenz Hart, Richard
Rodgers, Kurt Weill, Sheldon Harnick,
Jerry Bock, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen
Sondheim, Stephen Schwartz and Jule
Styne.
Though these remarkable Jewish song-
writers were purveyors of what we think
of today as the Broadway sound, the
documentary demonstrates how there
were echoes of Jewish strains in many of
the works.
From Yiddishkeit (all things Jewish)
on the stages of the Lower East Side at
the turn of the century to a wide range
of shows including Porgy and Bess, West
Side Story and Cabaret, the film explores
how Jewish music and ethos inform
many of America's favorite musicals.
Dynamic footage from these musicals
includes performances by stars— some
Jewish, some not — such as 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

Zero Mostel performs "Tradition" in the

1964 Broadway production of Fiddler
on the Roof, which made its stage
debut at the Fisher Theatre in Detroit.

(Bye Bye Birdie), Danny Kaye (Lady in
the Dark), Ethel Merman (Gypsy), and
Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel
(Wicked).
The film 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.'
While Jewish Americans certainly
abounded in other areas of the musical
theater, their predominance in the area
of songwriting was nearly complete,
with only the Episcopalian Cole Porter
represented as a major figure in the pan-
theon of America's greatest composers of
Broadway songs.
And even Porter, after three Broadway
flops, finally ascertained the surefire way
to success: "I'm going to write Jewish
tunes:'
As Oak Park High School and
University of Michigan graduate Andrew
Lippa, composer/lyricist of The Addams
Family, points out in the film, "Porgy
and Bess and Show Boat and Oklahoma!
These are ideas that are fictions. What
do we make America into? How do we
take what we know and make it into
America?"
Along with Lippa, the film features addi-
tional interviews with John Kander, Phyllis
Newman, Charles Strouse, Harold Prince,
Maury Yeston, Mary Rodgers Guettel,
Ernie Harburg, Marc Shaiman, David Shire
and Mel Brooks, among others.
Rare clips include Irving Berlin sing-
ing "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.



Broadway Musicals: A Jewish

Legacy airs on Detroit Public
Television-Channel 56 on
Tuesday, Jan. 1, from 9:30-11
p.m. and will repeat at 3 a.m.

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December 27 • 2012

JN

49

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