Matthew Murray reviews the home video version of Broadway's Lost Treasures, which has bonus clips -- and no pledge breaks!
Of the 17 numbers included in the PBS version of the program, seven come from the landmark 1971 Tony Awards broadcast, which celebrated 25 years of the Tonys in the grandest way imaginable: Many of Broadway's most famous and distinguished stars were invited to perform again the numbers they had made famous onstage. Without exception, these clips are superb, invaluable demonstrations of the art of live performance that everyone interested in musical theater should study.
Some of the original cast recreations will be more familiar than others. Vivian Blaine recreated her poignant and hilarious "Adelaide's Lament" in the film version of Guys and Dolls; Robert Preston, Yul Brynner, and John Raitt sang "Trouble," "Shall We Dance?," and "Hey There" in the film versions of The Music Man, The King and I, and The Pajama Game respectively; and Richard Kiley's definitive rendition of "The Impossible Dream" from Man of La Mancha has been available in a collection of clips from The Ed Sullivan Show (just re-released). But Zero Mostel's energetic "If I Were a Rich Man" from Fiddler on the Roof and Carol Channing's simple yet emotional "Before the Parade Passes By" from Hello, Dolly! are harder to find elsewhere. All of these numbers reveal the outsized personalities of performers who came to life onstage as nowhere else.
A few other major stars come off very well in their numbers here, even if they don't quite display the majesty of those noted above. Angela Lansbury's performance of "The Worst Pies in London" from Sweeney Todd is fun despite some audio synching problems, and an adolescent Andrea McArdle raises the rafters with her belting of "Tomorrow" from Annie. Julie Andrews brings her consummate class and glamour to "Send in the Clowns" from A Little Night Music even though she never played Desirée Armfeldt onstage and now, sadly, is unlikely ever to do so; the song has probably never sounded better. Betty Buckley, singing "Memory" from Cats in full Grizabella regalia, can't help but make an impression. Chita Rivera performs "All That Jazz" and is partnered by Gwen Verdon in "Nowadays," both songs from Chicago; the women project loads of charisma and their legs are on glorious display throughout.
Broadway's Lost Treasures is also invaluable in capturing the unique staging and/or choreography that has defined Broadway's most memorable musicals. The slow scenic and musical builds in "A New Argentina" from Evita are preserved in all their glory, with stars Patti LuPone, Mandy Patinkin, and Bob Gunton in top form. Tommy Tune's choreography for "Kickin' the Clouds Away" from My One and Only makes for a stage full of creative tapping from Tune himself, co-star Twiggy, and the show's chorus. "Lullaby of Broadway" from 42nd Street, led by the incomparable Jerry Orbach, is far more ingratiating, persuasive, and energetic than the current revival.
Better still is "Willkommen" from Cabaret, which features Joel Grey and company performing the entire number with all the spoken asides and Ron Field's dazzling choreography. There's also the triumphant first act finale from Dreamgirls, featuring not only Jennifer Holliday's earth-shattering "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" but also most of the scene leading up to it (with co-stars Sheryl Lee Ralph, Loretta Devine, Ben Harney, and Obba Babatundé) and the brief tag that follows.
There are plenty of surprises in Broadway's Lost Treasures. Patricia Morison sings and acts beautifully opposite Brynner in "Shall We Dance?" The camera work in the Dreamgirls sequence is so intricate, it makes the scene look like it was taken from a film rather than a stage production. Patti LuPone's facial expressions and body language as she belts out Evita's stratospheric notes are revelatory, if somewhat scary. There are also newly filmed segments in which Lansbury, Orbach, Grey, Tune, and Rivera shed light on the clips being shown and offer reminiscences of their careers in the theater.
Broadway's Lost Treasures is a must for inclusion in every theater enthusiast's video library. The version of the program that will be released on VHS and DVD on October 21 (priced at $19.95 and $24.95, respectively) will include five indelible performances not to be seen on the PBS broadcast: Ann Miller and Mickey Rooney strutting through a Jimmy McHugh medley from Sugar Babies, Paul Lynde having a ball in "Kids" from Bye Bye Birdie, and LuPone singing "Buenos Aires" from Evita, plus the ensemble number "God I Hope I Get It" from A Chorus Line and a medley of songs from Annie (including "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile," "Easy Street," and a group rendition of "Tomorrow.") These numbers -- especially those from A Chorus Line and Annie -- are as good or better than what you'll see in the telecast, and they suggest the rich variety of clips from additional Tony shows that might hopefully be released in the future.