BROADWAY: THE AMERICAN MUSICAL chronicles the history of this uniquely American art form. "Broadway," hosted by Academy Award- winning star of stage, film and television, Julie Andrews, tells two stories: the 100-year history of musical theater, and the story of its relationship to 20th-century American life, from the immigrant experience at the turn of the century to today's Broadway, where big budget new productions and revivals of classic favorites compete side by side for box office success. Peppered throughout are legendary moments in Broadway history and first-person accounts from dozens of theater luminaries -- among them late greats such as Adolph Green, Brendan Gill, Peter Stone, "Ziegfeld Girl" Dana O'Connell, Al Hirschfeld and Frances Gershwin Godowsky, and many other writers, lyricists, producers, performers, directors and scholars. Among them are Mel Brooks, Carol Channing, Betty Comden, Kitty Carlisle Hart, Jerry Herman, Margo Jefferson, John Kander and Fred Ebb, Joel Grey, Harvey Fierstein, Robert Kimball, Chita Rivera, John Lahr, Rocco Landesman, Jerry Orbach, Arthur Laurents, Harold Prince, Gerald Schoenfeld, Stephen Sondheim, Tommy Tune, Ben Vereen and George Wolfe.
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West Side Story not only brings untraditional subject matter to the musical stage, it ushers in a new breed of director/choreographer who insist on performers who can dance, sing and act. But by the time Jerome Robbins' last original musical, Fiddler on the Roof, closes after a record run of 3,242 performances in 1972, the world of Broadway has changed forever. Rock'n'roll, civil rights and Vietnam usher in new talents, many trained by the retiring masters, taking musical theater in daring new directions with innovative productions like Hair, the first Broadway musical with an entire score of rock music. The adult narrative of Stephen Sondheim's Company plunges the musical into a new era. Hal Prince's conceptual staging showcases John Kander and Fred Ebb's dynamic score for Cabaret. Bob Fosse captures a sexuality and cynicism ahead of its time with Chicago, but it is director/choreographer Michael Bennett who spearheads the biggest blockbuster of all - A Chorus Line. "It totally changed the musical theater," says Shubert Organization chairman Gerald Schoenfeld. "It was a catalyst for the improvement of this area, and of course this area is now the most desirable area in New York." With Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, the Broadway musical reaches unexpected new heights in style and material with a tale of slaughter and cannibalism set in 19th-century London. By the end of the 1970s, Broadway becomes the centerpiece of a remarkably successful public relations campaign that will lure tourists to New York for years to come. The episode features interviews with actor Joel Grey, composer Marvin Hamlisch, actor Jerry Orbach, producer Hal Prince, writer Frank Rich, lyricist Stephen Sondheim, director Julie Taymor and actor Ben Vereen. Highlights include rare footage of Ethel Merman rehearsing for Gypsy and home movies from the original stage production of Chicago.