Growing up in New England, I got my first dose of live theater watching
     the CBS variety series "The Ed Sullivan Show" on Sunday nights. My parents
     also had recordings of shows like
KISS ME, KATE and OKLAHOMA! It took me
     until 1975 to see my first live Broadway show, but I recall it vividly: the Hal
     Prince-directed in-the-round revival of
CANDIDE. After that I was hooked and
     would head to the local library to borrow whatever recordings they had. Once I
     was earning money of my own, I began to collect original cast albums. So I can
     easily understand filmmaker Rick McKay's rabid interest in the Broadway shows
     of the 1940s, 50s and 60s. By the 1980s, when McKay arrived in New York,
     Broadway had begun to undergo the changes that have left it much poorer.
     Production costs soared, shows became events, and the invasion of the large-scale
     British musicals forever altered the face of the American theater.

             So after a career of performing in nightclubs, McKay hit on the idea to try
     to interview as many of the remaining stars from the 40s, 50s and 60s as he could.
     The result is the terrific documentary
. McKay had some difficulties landing some of the
     interviewees which may account for some of the omissions (people like Joan Roberts
     who was the original Laurie in
OKLAHOMA!), but those who did agree offer a wide
     range of interesting tidbits.

             Theater is ephemeral; it is performed and then relegated to the memories of
     those who were performing and those who were in the audience. True, now we
     have records of many shows thanks to the archive at the New York Public Library
     for Performing Arts, but before the 1970s, there were few recordings made.
     Occasionally, a production might be recreated for television. So the rare archival
     footage that McKay has uncovered (much thanks to the intrepid associate producer
     Jane Klain) is worthy. There's footage of a teenage Ann Miller tap dancing in the 1939
GEORGE WHITE'S SCANDALS and the opening scenes of BUS STOP
     featuring Kim Stanley, Elaine Stritch and Albert Salmi. McKay (thanks to Ms. Klain)
     also located a 1938 screen test for Laurette Taylor, which is the only extant footage
     of the actress speaking. Watching it is amazing and it is frustrating to hear that producer
     David O. Selznick and his minions were unimpressed by Taylor, feeling as if she was
     some little old lady who wandered off the streets. In fact, Taylor had acted in silents
     and was an acclaimed stage star, noted for the chestnut
PEG O' MY HEART. In 1945,
     she delivered one of her most memorable performances creating the role of Amanda
     Wingfield in Tennessee Williams'
THE GLASS MENAGERIE. Like many in the theater
     who don't bother to learn the history, McKay did not know who Taylor was, but
     many of his interview subjects related how impressed and moved they were by her

             The film is a valentine to a lost era, when productions on Broadway didn't cost
     several million dollars, the cost of tickets was on par with movie admissions, and one
     could live rather cheaply in New York City. While there are flaws in the  piece, McKay
     has managed to elicit terrific stories from the likes of Barbara Cook, Elaine Stritch, Carol
     Channing, Gretchen Wyler, Uta Hagen, Gwen Verdon, Ann Miller, Patricia Morison,
     Angela Lansbury, Jerry Orbach, Patricia Neal, Maureen Stapleton, Beatrice Arthur,
     Carol Burnett and Elizabeth Ashley, among many, many others.

             BROADWAY, THE GOLDEN AGE serves as a document that captures some
     of the magic that has been lost as Broadway has become more corporate and less risky.
     It's a sad reminder of a time when plays and musicals flourished. McKay has reportedly
     enough interviews for a sequel, featuring a current crop of stars, but when weighed against
     those who went before, they simply can't measure up.

                                       Rating:                    A-
                                       MPAA Rating:         NONE
                                       Running time:          111 mins.

                                    Viewed at the CC Sutton Theater

© 2008 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.