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DVD SAVANT

Broadway's Lost Treasures


Broadway's Lost Treasures
Acorn Media
2003 / color / 1:33 flat / 110 min.
Street Date October 28, 2003 / 24.95

Hosted by Joel Grey, Angela Lansbury,
Jerry Orbach, Chita Rivera,
Tommy Tune
Produced by Christopher A. Cohen

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

The PBS pledge-break attention getter Broadway's Lost Treasures has made it to DVD by way of Acorn Media. It's a fairly impressive collection of show-stopping moments from big-time Broadway plays, as videotaped for television specials between 1967 and 1986. Figuring out if you're interested is easy; the lineup is as follows. The year given is when the clip was taped for television:

Playbill:

Vivian Blaine, Adelaide's Lament Guys and Dolls 1971
Patti LuPone, A New Argentina Evita 1980
Angela Lansbury Worst Pies in London Sweeney Todd 1979
Carol Channing Before the Parade Passes By Hello Dolly 1971
Julie Andrews Send in the Clowns A Little Night Music 1984

Zero Mostel If I Were a Rich Man Fiddler on the Roof 1971
Yul Brynner Shall We Dance The King and I 1971
John Raitt Hey There The Pajama Game 1971
Robert Preston Trouble The Music Man 1971
Paul Lynde Kids Bye Bye Birdie 1971

Joel Grey Wilkommen Cabaret 1967
Tommy Tune, Twiggy, Chasin' the Clouds Away My One and Only 1983
Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera All That Jazz & Nowadays Chicago 1984
Jerry Orbach Lullabye of Broadway 42nd Street 1981

Andrea McArdle Tomorrow Annie 1977
Cast You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile Annie 1977
Betty Buckley, Cast Jellicle Cats & Memory Cats 1983

Ann Miller, Mickey Rooney McHugh Medley Sugar Babies 1980
Patti LuPone, Buenos Aires Evita 1981
Barbara Harris Movie Star Gorgeous The Apple Tree 1967
Bonnie Franklin Applause Applause 1970
Dorothy Loudon, cast, Easy Street & Tomorrow reprise Annie 1977

You don't have to be the type that hums show tunes to warm up to the songs and performances here. Some of the talent involved in these tapings have been eclipsed by movie versions that replaced them with movie stars. For instance, seeing Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera in Chicago is a different experience than last year's overblown Oscar winner, even if the clip is rather short.

The format is painless, and doesn't overburden the clips with elaborate intros we don't want to see. The producers break the show up into four categories - Divas, Leading Men, Dancin' and Record Breakers. An extra category called Bonus Performances is actually just the last act of the unbroken show; the box text says these weren't shown on television. The official length of the program is 80 minutes, plus 30 more of bonus material. The play Annie gets four songs, which seems a bit much, but at least they're all good.

One has to study the disc a bit to figure it out how it was put together. Hosts like Jerry Orbach (a musical star long before he became a grim TV cop) are shot bluescreen and tend to have blue rims around their ears. The 'audience' we see as we zoom into the Sweeney Todd number has been sampled and turned into a title graphic element; either that or it's been cleverly composited to frame the beginning of the Sweeney number. It's not spelled out exactly where the clips come from. A bunch hail from an unnamed 1971 show that featured individual musical numbers on a blank stage with only big dates ('1964', '1957') as decoration. It must have been an impressive night to get Robert Preston and Yul Brynner back doing their stuff.

The quality varies with the year of the taping. Barbara Harris in The Apple Tree is the worst, but her show is a surviving tape from 1967. The 1971 performances are okay to good, and the later ones look fine for pre-digital tape formats. In every case, the rarity and verve of the numbers outweighs considerations of image quality.

It's also difficult to figure out if some of the performances are lip-synched. Robert Preston and Angela Lansbury go out of synch for a moment here and there, but the patter-songs they are doing are so fast, It's hard to believe they'd try to do them to playback. Perhaps after hundreds of performances, it's easy. I do see microphones in at least one show, and a real orchestra is often visible. If some of the performances aren't live, I was fooled.

As a person who has attended only 3 or 4 stage musicals, I always need to be reminded that most were radically altered on the way to the movie screen. The staging of Cabaret as seen here is so elaborate and clever, that it would seem to be a different experience altogether from Bob Fosse's (good) film version. And where else can one see Zero Mostel as Tevye instead of Topol? The only regret one has after seeing this show is that all older original shows weren't filmed right from the stage, to record them for posterity. What was Pal Joey like originally, with Gene Kelly? I'm grateful for the Stephen Sondheim taped plays (on a compilation soon to be reviewed at DVD Savant). But what ever happened to television tapings of fare like The Year the Senators Won the Pennant? I remember seeing that one back in the 60s. Wasn't there a musical of Superman that was shown on network television?


Acorn Media's DVD of Broadway's Lost Treasures is a good production that looks a bit cleaner than the PBS broadcasts. Extras include extensive cast and credits (and performance history) information on all the original plays involved, and a gallery of PLAYBILL cover art.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Broadway's Lost Treasures rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Good
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: Playbill art, Show stats and credits
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: November 11, 2003


Footnote:

1. Matt Hough fills in the facts for Savant, 11.13.03:
Hey, Glenn! All of the numbers on BROADWAY'S LOST TREASURES were taken from Tony Awards broadcasts produced by theater producer Alexander H. Cohen between 1967 and 1986 (note the dedication to him at the end of the program). Nope, nowhere on the box does it mention that these came from those broadcasts, but they are. Possibly the DVD producers didn't want to pay the American Theatre Wing and the League of New York Theaters for the rights to use the Tony name in the packaging for this show.

The 1971 Tony broadcast was a 25th year anniversary of the Tonys, and that's why so many legendary stars came back to perform a number from the shows as they originally introduced them.

The Tony Awards tapes are VALUABLE documents because in many cases like the "Wilkomen" number from CABARET which you mentioned, you're seeing the number as it was actually performed on the stage originally (only the tilted mirror in the background is missing from the CABARET number). And in some cases, numbers like the "Jellicle Cats" number were taped on the actual Winter Garden set because it couldn't be adequately reproduced on the stage of the theater where the Tonys were being awarded that year.

For a theater buff like me, the only problem I have with this release is that it isn't LONG enough. While it's great to see these stars doing some of their most famous turns, so much else was passed over including monumental, show stopping moments from DREAMGIRLS, A CHORUS LINE, COCO (Katharine Hepburn's only musical which had a 15 minute segment on the Tonys), I DO I DO (Mary Martin, Robert Preston), and too many others to name.

Hope that clarifies some of the questions you were pondering during your review. Warm regards, Matt Hough




DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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