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Broadway Musicals

Release Year:         2012
Studio:         Acorn Media
Format:         Colour; Widescreen; NTSC
Rated:         Not Rated
# of Discs/Episodes:         2 Discs / 1 Episode
Running Time:         84 minutes plus 3 hours of bonus
DVD Release Date:         May 7, 2013
Narrator:         Joel Grey
Director:         Michael Kantor
DVD Features:         SDH subtitles
E:Top Picks Rating:         9/10

Acorn Media Write-up:    
ENGAGING, HUMOROUS, AND PROVOCATIVE, Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy examines the unique role of Jewish composers and lyricists in the creation of the modern American musical. The film showcases the work of legends such as Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, George and Ira Gershwin, Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Leonard Bernstein, and Stephen Sondheim. Interviews with songwriters and luminaries including Sheldon Harnick, Stephen Schwartz, Harold Prince, Arthur Laurents, Charles Strouse, and Mel Brooks provide insight, along side standout performances and archival footage.

Narrated by Tony and Academy Award winner Joel Grey, this entertaining documentary mingles cultural history with illuminating perspectives on the origins and meanings of some of Broadway’s most beloved songs, stories, and shows.

•    Bonus disc with additional interview clips and performances (3 hours)
•    16-page viewer’s guide featuring reflections on Jewish Broadway, with an introduction by Executive Producer Barbara Brilliant
•    Biography of narrator Joel Grey

Jon Ted Wynne Review:  
One might think the title of this documentary to be presumptuous, to say the least, but in reality, Broadway musicals ARE almost exclusively a Jewish legacy. Even one of the few notable exceptions to the overwhelming numbers of Jewish composer/lyricist/authors, Cole Porter, has a tenuous Jewish connection, or so say the makers of this clever, inspired and thoroughly entertaining documentary. (Porter tried to write “Jewish music”).

There are times when a film’s premise is clearly intended as a political statement (witness Michael Moore’s fabricated diatribes). Had that been the case here, the film would have run the risk of being tedious. Fortunately the filmmakers understand they are on solid ground and simply delight in telling their story.

When you think about it–and this film does get you thinking–the Broadway musical as an art form is pretty amazing. The Broadway musical as cultural expression and metaphor through which sensitive subject matter can sometimes be explored, is truly remarkable. This film is masterful in the way it layers revelation upon revelation while it takes the viewer on a brisk and illuminating history of the Broadway musical.

Along the way there are a number of interviews with key creators, as well as some wonderful excerpts from Broadway shows, including Hugh Jackman singing “Oh What A Beautiful Mornin'” from “Oklahoma!”. My favourite was Zero Mostel singing “If I Were A Rich Man” at the 1971 Tony Awards. Mostel originated the role of Tevye in “Fiddler On The Roof” and was deeply hurt not to be cast in the film version, which was happening around the time of this televised performance. (Apparently Mostel lost out on the film because of his habitual improvising).

The interviews and performances are so plentiful that not all of them appear in the film. Hence, there is a generous second disc which includes extended interviews, including one that was not used, even in part, in the finished film. Theodore Bikel talks about his experiences of anti-Semitism while growing up. He also discusses creating the role of Captain von Trapp in the original production of “The Sound of Music”. While his comments and anecdotes are extremely interesting, they just don’t fit the tone of the rest of the film. It was a wise decision to exclude him from the film, but equally wise to include it as an extra feature, amidst many others. Of the additional interviews, the one with Eric Idle is a stand-out as he traces the influence of Gilbert & Sullivan (who were not Jewish) on the musical comedy art form.

Fans of musical theatre will especially relish this film, though it also stands up as an historical document in its own right.