Great Performances

Broadway's Lost Treasures (10 Aug. 2003)

TV Episode  -   -  Biography | Drama | Music
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The golden age of the annual Tony Awards ceremony lasted from 1967 to 1986 -- the period during which 'Alexander H. Cohen' and his wife, Hildy Parks, were the producers of the show. This ... See full summary »

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(as Christopher A. Cohen)
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The golden age of the annual Tony Awards ceremony lasted from 1967 to 1986 -- the period during which 'Alexander H. Cohen' and his wife, Hildy Parks, were the producers of the show. This film offers a compilation of performances from Tony Award broadcasts during those years. They are presented with color-corrected footage and digitally re-mastered sound. Written by RPK

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10 August 2003 (USA)  »

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After the release of the video and DVD versions was announced, together with all the musical numbers, contract disputes forced the makers of the program to remove the "Man of La Mancha" and "Dreamgirls" sequences and substitute songs from other musicals in their place. This is why another announcer (instead of Jerry Orbach, the host) can be heard just before these numbers. Richard Kiley can be seen and heard singing "The Impossible Dream" on the Ed Sullivan video, "The Best of Broadway Musicals". See more »

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Memory
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Trevor Nunn and T.S. Eliot
Performed by Betty Buckley
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Alexander Cohen's greatest hits
3 September 2003 | by (Minffordd, North Wales) – See all my reviews

For part of the 1970s and the early 1980s, I (all too briefly) had the honour of working for Broadway producer Alexander H. Cohen, one of the greatest showmen of all time. Mr Cohen ('Alex' to his thousands of friends) was the only producer to maintain permanent production offices both on Broadway and in London's West End. In addition to mounting many intelligent dramas and comedies, Alexander Cohen also invented the "nine o'clock musical": an intimate, plot-less revue featuring one piano and a minimal cast. Ironically, the only form of theatre production in which Alexander Cohen never had significant success was the book musical: the type of stage musical that has a plot as well as a score. For many years, Mr Cohen was ably abetted by his wife (former actress Hildy Parks), their two sons, and his associate Roy Somlyo.

Alexander Cohen's greatest achievement (among many) was his long stint as producer of the Tony Awards: an annual special presentation on CBS-TV, in which the American Theatre Wing presented awards to the best plays and musicals of each theatre season. Regrettably, Mr Cohen was pressured into stepping down as presenter of the Tonys when he publicly made a disparaging remark about one (extremely unpopular) theatre critic, and implied that he spoke for the American Theatre Wing as well as himself when he made this remark.

"Broadway's Lost Treasures" is a compilation of 17 musical numbers from several annual editions of the Tony Awards, all produced under Alexander Cohen's aegis. A disproportionate percentage of these numbers are from the 1971 Tony Awards ceremony. The 1971 Broadway theatre season was less distinguished than usual, and the American Theatre Wing expected that year's edition of the Tony Awards to be thin pickings. With one of his legendary bursts of inspiration, Alex Cohen realised that this year (1971) was the 25th anniversary of the Tony Awards. He decided to celebrate the occasion by having several of Broadway's most legendary performers reprise their most famous musical numbers. "Broadway's Lost Treasures" contains several of those re-enactments.

Unfortunately, some of the re-enactments in "Broadway's Lost Treasures" are less than first-rate. From the 1971 Tony special, we see Vivian Blaine doing an abbreviated version of "Adelaide's Lament" from 'Guys and Dolls', plus Robert Preston doing 'Trouble' from 'The Music Man', Yul Brynner doing 'Shall We Dance?' from 'The King and I' and John Raitt singing 'Hey There' from 'The Pyjama Game'. But all of these performers did these songs much more brilliantly in the respective film versions of these musicals, which are now (although not in 1971) readily available on video. The John Raitt number is especially disappointing: why didn't he reprise for the Tony Awards his greatest number of all, 'Soliloquy' from 'Carousel'? This is especially regrettable, since -- unlike 'The Pyjama Game' -- Raitt didn't get a chance to repeat his performance in the film version of 'Carousel'. Also on offer here, Zero Mostel repeats his biddy-biddy-boom routine from 'Fiddler'. I've always thought of this grossly overrated and undisciplined performer as Less-than-Zero Mostel, and his performance here does nothing to convince me otherwise.

On the plus side, we get Joel Grey's brilliant performance of 'Wilkommen' from 'Cabaret'. Here too is a number which the Broadway performer has repeated in the movie version ... but Grey's characterisation here, as the German cabaret's compere, is astonishingly different from his Oscar-winning performance of this same role in the film. I was thrilled to see this. (Intriguingly, Joel Grey is backed here by an interracial chorus ... a surprising decision, as this show takes place in 1930s Berlin.) The great Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera are slinky and sexy in their Bob Fosse duet from 'Chicago': it's intriguing to see their different dance styles side by side. (Ms Verdon's legwork had much more amplitude than Ms Rivera's, even before Chita Rivera's taxi accident.)

Also extremely enjoyable here are 'Kickin' the Clouds Away' from 'My One and Only', performed in sprightly fashion by Twiggy, Tommy Tune and some tap-dancing bridesmaids, and 'Hello, Argentina' from 'Evita'. I found the 'Lullaby of Broadway' number from '42nd Street' much too overblown, but some people will like it. Angela Lansbury performs a rapid-fire patter song (with tongue-twisting Sondheim lyrics) from 'Sweeney Todd'. A close-up reveals that she's lip-synching to her own pre-recorded voice. Since the Tony Awards were broadcast live, I can't blame Alexander Cohen's decision to take this precaution.

The most pleasant surprise here is Julie Andrews warbling 'Send in the Clowns' from 'A Little Night Music'. Ms Andrews was one of those rare singers who actually emoted a song rather than merely performing it: her rendition here is warm and enchanting. At one point during this live performance, she glances offstage to check the lyrics on a cue card ... but her performance is so deft that you'll barely notice this.

The finest vocal performance here is by the young Andrea McArdle, singing 'Tomorrow' from 'Annie'. This is one of the greatest examples I've ever heard of the 'Broadway belt' voice: the fact that it's emerging from a child performer makes it even more astonishing. How regrettable that Ms McArdle has never had equal success during her adult career as an actress.

Despite its flaws, "Broadway's Lost Treasures" is required viewing for anyone interested in the American musical theatre. I'll rate this TV special 10 points out of 10. Alex Cohen, you are missed and loved by your legions of friends and theatre audiences in New York and London.


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