Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There

Reviewed By Elaine Perrone
Posted 09/29/04 19:50:47

"Broadway Legends Recall 'What They Did for Love.'"
5 stars (Awesome)

The first time I screened "Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There" at Seattle International Film Festival 2003, I sat riveted, grinning ear to ear, knowing only that I was enormously entertained by a rollicking homage to Broadway theatre in the 1940s, '50s, and '60s, featuring "found" archival footage, photos, and remembrances of the actors, writers, composers, choreographers, and critics who were there. Little did I realize that I was seeing an early version of a loving restoration of a bygone era by a one-man force-of-nature who never committed to his vocabulary the word "enough."

Talking with filmmaker-producer-director-writer-editor Rick McKay even briefly, he exudes the passion that roused him to pursue his dream of interviewing his childhood idols, hearing from them exactly what they had experienced as they trod the boards during those magical years. Even as a boy in Indiana, McKay was fascinated with the actors and their performances, collecting the cast albums of all the musicals he so loved. When he arrived in New York City in 1981, he was dismayed to find that those glorious productions, with their glittering headliners and show-stopping tunes, had made way for rock operas and foreign imports that were hybrids of music with interchangeable casts.

In his dedication to bringing back to life those golden years of Broadway for old fans and new ones who might otherwise never have had access, McKay spent five years traveling four continents and interviewing some 150 celebrities, who reminisced not only about their own experiences but about other luminaries of the theatre who influenced their careers. In his travels, McKay unearthed rare photos, audio tapes, and archival footage of performances and rehearsals thought to have been lost forever or never preserved on film at all.

In his interview with McKay, Ben Gazzara expressed amazement at seeing himself and Barbara Bel Geddes on stage in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, declaring his certainty that the stage play had never been recorded. McKay delighted Angela Lansbury -- and me -- with a clip of the eponymous production number from Mame, which was my own first experience with Broadway theatre when my parents took my brother and me to see it at the Winter Garden in 1967.

Recalling their lean years, when they "second-acted" in order to see the shows for which they couldn't afford to buy tickets (and this at a time when it cost less to see a Broadway show than to go to a movie), several of the stars related their experiences as awestruck fans of Marlon Brando and Jessica Tandy in A Streetcar Named Desire, Kim Stanley in Bus Stop, and a forgotten actress named Laurette Taylor, whose stunning performance in The Glass Menagerie still evoked a sense of wonder in many who saw her, even after more than 50 years.

In all, McKay included interviews with about 90 celebrities in "Broadway: The Golden Age," among them Shirley MacLaine, Maureen Stapleton, Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson, Carol Channing, Julie Harris, Elizabeth Ashley, Jerry Orbach, Jeremy Irons, Chita Rivera, Robert Morse, Betty Garrett, Stephen Sondheim, Derek Jacobi, and Lainie Kazan, and a dazzling parade of other of Broadway's shining lights. Fortuitously, he was able to include lovely interviews with Gwen Verdon (who is also shown in clips with Bob Fosse), Uta Hagan, Fred Ebb, Hume Cronyn, Ann Miller, Kim Hunter, and Adolph Green, who did not live to see the film's release or who have died since.

Happily, McKay promises more to come, with a DVD release in November and a follow-up entitled "Broadway: The Next Generation," which will feature interviews with today's stars of stage (and screen), including Liev Schreiber, Alan Cumming, and John Barrowman.

Many of those interviewed, who originally declined to meet with McKay at all, finally committed to giving him 15 minutes of their time. Several found themselves still sitting, hours later, reminiscing about "What They Did for Love." At one point, acting legend Elaine Stritch quipped, "For Chrissake, Rick, don't you have enough?" Luckily for those of us who could listen to these wonderful reminisces and watch those glorious clips forever, the answer, at least for now, is a resounding "No!"

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