Broadway: The American Musical
I Got Plenty O' Nuttin' (1930-1942)Episode Guide »
I Got Plenty o' Nuttin' (1930-1942) - The Great Depression proves to be a dynamic period of creative growth on Broadway, and a dichotomy in the musical theater emerges. Productions like Cole Porter's Anything Goes offer glamour and high times as an escape, while others - such as Of Thee I Sing, which satirizes the American political system, and the remarkable WPA production of The Cradle Will Rock, about a steel strike - deal directly with the era's social and political concerns. When Bing Crosby records "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime," the doleful Broadway ballad takes the hit parade by surprise. "This song spoke to the hearts, and to the minds, and to the emotions and thoughts, of everybody who lived during that Depression,"says lyricist Yip Harburg's son, Ernie. Rodgers and Hart return to New York to create a string of new shows, including the sexually frank Pal Joey, a genuine departure that stars newcomer Gene Kelly. In the gloom of the Depression, Porter offers Broadway audiences such unforgettable songs as "You're the Top," which serves as an effervescent tonic to a weary nation. In 1935, George Gershwin creates his epic masterpiece Porgy and Bess, which becomes, in the words of one critic, "the most American opera that has yet been seen or heard." The onset of World War II galvanizes the country, and America's troubadour, Irving Berlin, rallies the troops with "This Is the Army." The episode features interviews with actor and original " Bess" Anne Brown, playwright Jerome Chodorov, actor Carol Channing, film director Stanley Donen, actor and original "Porgy" Todd Duncan, writer Philip Furia, actor Kitty Carlisle Hart, actor June Havoc, actor/producer John Houseman, actor/director Tim Robbins and composer/ lyricist Stephen Sondheim. Highlights include rarely seen home movies of the Gershwin brothers from the 1930s, and 1950s TV footage of the incomparable Ethel Waters singing Irving Berlin's "Summertime." Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin' (1943-1960) - The new partnership of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II changes the face of Broadway forever, beginning with the record-breaking Oklahoma! in 1943, featuring a landmark ballet by Agnes De Mille. Carousel and South Pacific then set the standard for decades to come by pioneering a musical in which story is all-important. For challenging the country to confront its deep-seated racial bigotry, South Pacific wins the Pulitzer Prize. In On the Town, an exuberant team of novices - Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Jerome Robbins - captures the energy, humor and pathos of New York City during World War II. Irving Berlin triumphs again with Annie Get Your Gun, featuring Ethel Merman and the unofficial anthem of the American musical theater, "There's No Business Like Show Business." In shows like Guys and Dolls, My Fair Lady and Kiss Me, Kate, sophisticated adaptations of literary material prevail. "Cole Porter led the way in writing adult songs about love and sex," says theater historian Robert Kimball. "He defied the censors. He, probably more than any other songwriter in this century, made it possible for the openness that we have in all popular music." In 1956, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe triumph with My Fair Lady, featuring an 18-year-old Julie Andrews. TV's "The Ed Sullivan Show" becomes the most important showcase for Broadway musicals. Yet with the death of Oscar Hammerstein II soon after the premiere of The Sound of Music in 1959, the curtain begins to lower on a golden age. The episode features interviews with actor Julie Andrews, writer/lyricist Betty Comden, choreographer Agnes De Mille, writer/lyricist Adolph Green, Oscar Hammerstein's grandson Andy Hammerstein, choreographer Michael Kidd, author James Michener, theater historian Steve Nelson, musician John Raitt, choreographer Jerome Robbins, Richard Rodgers' composer/ daughter Mary Rodgers and conductor Michael Tilson-Thomas. Highlights include never-before-broadcast footage of Jerome Robbins' choreography for On the Town, 1960 TV footage of Rex Harrison re- enacting "I'm an Ordinary Man" from My Fair Lady, and the first American broadcast of 1950 footage of the original Guys and Dolls cast performing in London.