Broadway: The American Musical

Syncopated City (1919-1933)

Episode Guide »
Gossip columnist Walter Winchell gives Broadway a nickname that becomes synonymous with all of New York: "It is the Big Apple, the goal of all ambitions, the pot of gold at the end of a drab and somewhat colorless rainbow..." With the advent of Prohibition and the Jazz Age, America convulses with energy and change, and nowhere is the riotous mix of classes and cultures more dramatically on display than Broadway. "There was this period in which everybody was leaping across borders and boundaries," says director/producer George C. Wolfe. "There was this incredible cross-fertilization, cultural appropriation." While brash American women flapped their way to newfound freedoms, heroines of Broadway like Marilyn Miller become a testament to pluck and luck. It's the age of "Whoopee" and the " Charleston," Runnin' Wild and George White's Scandals. In 1921, a jazz show like no other arrives: Shuffle Along, which features a rich, rousing score by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, reopening Broadway's doors to black talent. Unique talents like the Marx Brothers and Al Jolson - a Jewish immigrant and Prohibition's biggest star - rocket to stardom. The Gershwin brothers, the minstrels of the Jazz Age, bring a "Fascinating Rhythm" to an entire nation. Innovative songwriting teams like Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart ignite a new age of bright melodies and clever lyrics with the massive hit Manhattan. But as the Roaring Twenties come to a close, Broadway's Jazz Age suffers the one-two punch of the "talking picture" and the stock market crash, triggering a massive talent exodus to Hollywood and putting an end to Broadway's feverish expansion. The episode features interviews with actor Carol Channing, Gershwin sister Frances Gershwin Godowsky, Jolson & Co. creator Stephen Mo Hanan, critic Margo Jefferson, writer Miles Krueger, New Yorker theater critic John Lahr, radio host/music critic Jonathan Schwartz, theater historians Max Wilk and Robert Kimball, and director/producer George C. Wo

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