DVD Documentary Salutes Broadway Musicals’ Jewish Legacy
By: Ellis Nassour
Emmy-winning producer Michael Kantor (Broadway: The American Musical) returns to Broadway to profile the phenomenon of the contribution of Jewish-American songwriters, actors, and creative teams in Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy (Athena/RJL Entertainment; 2 discs; 4 ½ hours total; SRP, $40). Oscar and Tony winner Joel Grey, who came up the ranks from Yiddish theater, narrates.
As Sir Robin sings merrily to King Arthur in Monty Python’s Spamalot, "You won’t succeed on Broadway if you don’t have any Jews." Eric Idle’s cheeky lyric unfailingly generated great laughter from audiences. Even though it’s factually known that Jewish artists had help from their goyim colleagues, the lyric is grounded in truth.
The documentary co-mingles cultural history with illuminating perspectives on the origins of some of Broadway’s most beloved shows. Kantor showcases the work of legends such as Irving Berlin, Leonard Bernstein, Jerry Bock, Fred Ebb, George and Ira Gershwin, O
scar Hammerstein II, Ernie "Yip" Harburg, Sheldon Harnick, Lorenz Hart, John Kander, Jerome Kern, Arthur Laurents, Richard Rodgers, Stephen Schwartz, Stephen Sondheim, Jule Styne, and Kurt Weill as well as directors and producers, such as Hal Prince, and choreographers.
In addition to performances by Matthew Broderick, Kristin Chenoweth, Dick Van Dyke, Nathan Lane, Idina Menzel, Kelli O’Hara, Zero Mostel, David Hyde Pierce, and, among others, Barbra Streisand, there are interviews with Mel Brooks, Phyllis Newman, Mary Rodgers, Marc Shaiman, Charles Strouse, and Maury Yeston.
Fanny Brice and Ethel Merman are featured in archival footage, along with rare clips of Berlin singing the quintessential American song "God Bless America," Styne and Sondheim in rehearsal for Gypsy, and original South Pacific star William Tabbert singing "You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught" with composer Rodgers on piano.
Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy was originally telecast on PBS’s Great Performances. The DVD bonus disc has three hours of interviews and performances not seen on TV, in addition to a 16-page illustrated guide.
Kantor, who also produced the Emmy-nominated series Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America, produced, wrote, and directed. Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy is a Albert M. Tapper/B’way Films/Ghost Light Films production, with Barbara Brilliant executive producing.