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Ode to 'Broadway' conjures up wonderful memories

| Thursday, Aug. 19, 2004

You won't find the most enthralling documentary in years at a multiplex near you. And you shouldn't count on it lasting more than a week.

Rick McKay's "Broadway: The Golden Age," starting Friday at the Manor, has no peer as an anecdotal record of Broadway from the mid-1940s through the late 1960s.

Over a five-year period, director-cinematographer-editor McKay interviewed scores of Broadway veterans and divided his movie into chapters about first trips to Broadway, efforts to get a shoe in the door, greatest influences and commonly held observations about what has been lost since.

McKay has a regret of his own - that he started his project too late to interview such deceased legends as Ethel Merman, Mary Martin and the Barrymores.

It took him so long to complete his movie that he winds up dedicating it to about a dozen stars who participated and since have died such as Adolph Green, Gwen Verdon, Fay Wray and Uta Hagen.

In honing hours of comments and clips to less than two hours, he has devised the fastest-moving entertainment in years.

Shirley MacLaine probably is the most famous example in history of someone becoming a celebrity almost overnight after going on as an understudy ... and on the night she was planning to hand in her resignation.

Robert Goulet remembers his singing audition for "Camelot," intimidated by the trained actor Richard Burton observing from down front, not knowing that Burton was experiencing the same moment from the vantage of an actor who had little skill as a singer.

Composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim recalls attending the first performance anywhere of "Carousel."

Angela Lansbury and composer-lyricist Jerry Herman remember how they conspired to get her the leading role in his musical "Mame" when the producers wanted a bigger name and a more established musical star.

"We didn't call it the Golden Age, of course," Lansbury says.

"I thought it was going to go on forever," Carol Lawrence adds.

Carol Burnett says she and three roommates pooled their funds to buy one good dress they could share for auditions. It had to be dry-cleaned after each use.

Many recall the performance and performers who turned them on to theater for life. The one mentioned most often is Laurette Taylor for her landmark naturalistic portrayal of Amanda Wingfield in "The Glass Menagerie."

"The most mesmerizing actress I've ever seen," Gena Rowlands says.

They talk of Julie Harris -- herself a participant here -- Kim Stanley and Geraldine Page.

Among men, Marlon Brando knocked out his peers as Stanley Kowalski in "A Streetcar Named Desire."

"That absolute truth is glorious to work with," recalls Kim Hunter, who did the play and the movie with him.

Many lament the sacrifice of the old Broadway to the spectacle of a crashing chandelier and cat costumes -- and the intrusion of the microphone into the Broadway theater, which hasn't been the same since.

One after another the greats opine and recall - Elaine Stritch, Barbara Cook, Patricia Neal, Eva Marie Saint, Charles Durning, Tom Bosley, Karl Malden, Frank Langella, Carol Channing, Betty Garrett, Eli Wallach, Anne Jackson. Their specificity brings the film to life.

When "Broadway: The Golden Era" ended, I wanted it to go on for two more hours. I would have settled for rethreading the projector and running it again immediately. Additional Information:

Details

'Broadway: The Golden Age'

Director: Rick McKay.

Stars: Angela Lansbury, Carol Burnett, Shirley MacLaine.

MPAA rating: Unrated, but PG-13 in nature for brief language.

Opens Friday: Manor in Squirrel Hill.

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