Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy
As Sir Robin carols merrily to King Arthur in Monty Python’s Spamalot, “In any great adventure, if you don’t want to lose…you won’t succeed on Broadway if you don’t have any Jews.”
Eric Idle’s cheeky lyric, which unfailingly generated knowing guffaws from Broadway audiences, proves to be more than a little grounded in truth, as Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy convincingly attests.
This new 90-minute documentary by Michael Kantor, creator of the Emmy-winning series, Broadway: The American Musical, airs on Great Performances Tuesday, January 1 at 9:30 p.m. on PBS. (Check local listings.)
Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy – narrated by Joel Grey — explores the unique role of Jewish composers and lyricists in the creation of the modern American musical. Featuring interviews and conversations with some of the greatest composers and writers of the Broadway stage, Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy showcases the work of some of the nation’s pre-eminent creators of musical theatre including Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, George and Ira Gershwin, Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Kurt Weill, Sheldon Harnick, Jerry Bock, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Stephen Schwartz, Jule Styne and many others.
Though these remarkable songwriters were purveyors of what we think of today as the Broadway sound, the documentary demonstrates how there were echoes of Jewish strains in many of the works. From “Yiddishkeit” (all things Jewish) on the stages of the Lower East Side at the turn of the century to a wide range of shows including Porgy and Bess, West Side Story and Cabaret, the film explores how Jewish music and ethos informs many of America’s favorite musicals.
The film features interviews with Arthur Laurents, Sheldon Harnick, John Kander, Andrew Lippa, Stephen Schwartz, Phyllis Newman, Charles Strouse, Harold Prince, Maury Yeston, Mary Rodgers Guettel, Ernie Harburg, Marc Shaiman, David Shire, Stephen Sondheim, Mel Brooks, Stephen Schwartz and many others.