Sylvia, certainly an "Oh, Kaye! Fine, funny woman!"
The witty writings of Sylvia Fine Kaye are well known for her long association with husband Danny Kaye whom she became forever credited with when he went to Hollywood in the mid 1940's. Her humor as a writer made her a name, but not a face, and fortunately, as an attractive older woman, audiences interested in the arts became aware of her in person through three PBS specials where she hosted, wisecracked and documented the history behind a dozen shows through these three installments. The formula is simple; She chooses several shows of different eras, and presents them as a history as to how musical theater has advanced over the era. So for one episode, you'd perhaps get the 20's or 30's, the 40's or 50's, and then a more modern show. This one features tributes to 1927's "Good News", 1934's "Anything Goes", 1943's "Oklahoma!", and with a huge gap, 1970's "Company".
Ms. Fine profiles the history of each of these with an idea of what the trends were at the time, what was hot in music and on film, what was happening at the hands of the evil leaders of the world, and how all of that had an impact on the shows. For the snappy college musical "Good News", you've got Sandy Duncan showing her vocal and dancing chops with "The Varsity Drag" and Bobby Van and Bernadette Peters proving that, indeed, "The Best Things in Life Are Free". John Davidson, who would star in stock productions of "Oklahoma!" as "Curly" repeats his role here, and it's interesting to see what would happen had you had the opportunity to see him in many of the summer stock venues he performed this in. Funny lady Carol Burnett isn't the best vocalist, but she's a perfect Ado Annie.
The legendary Ethel Merman gets to show that even as an older Reno Sweeney, she still was "the tops", and duets with Rock Hudson in that classic Cole Porter comic duet. She shows her vulnerability with "I Get a Kick Out of You" and rocks the house with the title song. La Merm isn't up there like some old lady showing off; She still has the chops more than 45 years after performing it on stage, and proves why she was still packing em' in with concerts accompanied by the Boston Pops.
The modern "Company" is a cult favorite for many Broadway fans, and is the show that made Sondheim the composer and lyricist to watch out for as Broadway headed into a new era. Fine makes her dislike for recent trends of shows like "Hair" well known, but there's no prudishness in her feelings towards "Company" which shows an unmarried non-couple (Bernadette Peters and Richard Chamberlain) in bed. Sandy Duncan returns to show us why "Another Hundred People" is still so real in modern times (although now it's "Another Hundred People on their cell phones are blocking the doors to the train"), and Burnett is a feisty, if still nasal, Joanne, selling "The Ladies Who Lunch" with gusto, although I still prefer Stritchie.
So for an early 1980's TV special, this isn't dated at all, although technology has certainly improved with time. The appearance of Agnes De Mille in the "Oklahoma!" sequence will be a thrill to dance fanatics. I'm glad the series continued, but my only regret is that there were only three. This is one of those TV specials that collectors treasure, and I'm so glad that these are out there for future audiences to enjoy, especially those who are studying musical theater history or wishing to join in that joyous line of work that they did for love.
0 of 0 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?