Throughout its 40-year history on public television, Great Performances has provided viewers nationwide with an unparalleled showcase of the best in all genres of the performing arts.
In celebration of this extraordinary legacy on the occasion of the series’ 40th anniversary on PBS, a stellar roster of diverse alumni gather to share their personal stories of what Great Performances has meant to them, with reminiscences and performances by Julie Andrews, Audra McDonald, Don Henley, David Hyde Pierce, Josh Groban, Itzhak Perlman, Peter Martins, Patti Austin and Take 6, Met Opera star Elīna Garanča and Michael Bublé. The evening, taped at Lincoln Center last November, will be televised on Great Performances, Friday, October 18 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings).
The program will launch this year’s PBS Arts Fall Festival, a multi-platform event anchored by seven films that highlight artists and performances from around the country, with related online content.
Musical performances and anecdotes are interspersed with highlights from some of the most memorable Great Performances of the past, grouped by genre: musical theater, rock, classic and contemporary drama, classical music, dance, jazz, opera, and the pop standards from American Songbook. Introducing the show, Julie Andrews recalls how the series came about in the early 1970s when the networks had already abandoned any consistent cultural programming. “Its simple premise was to provide a home for the world’s greatest artists. The series would be a showcase for the best in music, drama and dance. And as you will see tonight, four decades later, this vision not only succeeded, but it has grown to give viewers across the country a front row seat to the performing arts.”
The full musical program follows:
“Dear Friend” (from “She Loves Me”)
“Stars and the Moon”
“Not While I’m Around” (from “Sweeney Todd”)
“Dem Trisker Rebn’s Nign”
“A Dudele” (with Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot and the Klezmer Conservatory Band)
New York City Ballet
“It Should Have Been Me”
“Just in Time” (from “Bells are Ringing”)
Patti Austin and Take 6
“How High the Moon”
“Chanson Boheme” (Gypsy Song) (from “Carmen”)
“I’ve Got the World on a String”
In his remarks introducing the series’ drama programs, David Hyde Pierce reminisces about the personal impact of these milestone productions, remarking “It brings back a lot of memories of when I was a young person I used to watch Great Performances on PBS, not just Shakespeare but all the other wonderful dramas broadcast by the series. And when I grew up I became an actor.”
Peter Martins, in his introduction to the segment on the series’ groundbreaking dance productions, observes, “One of the great things that has made these series great is that they allow great artists like Balanchine, and Jerry Robbins and Martha Graham and Paul Taylor and Alvin Ailey and so many others to collaborate and create an invaluable library of works adapted and supervised by themselves and broadcast to audiences across the country. So we are very grateful to Great Performances for having been a part of our lives.”
His remarks lead into the Ray Charles version of “It Should Have Been Me,” danced by current members of New York City Ballet.
Over the course of its four decades, Great Performances has provided a national stage where popular artists not only reveal the surprising dimensions of their creative gifts but often surpass expectations. Great Performances has also offered artists the opportunity to celebrate and pay homage to the influential figures in their lives and careers, as well as be the first to spotlight emerging artists with their feature-length television debut.
Great Performances is a production of THIRTEEN for WNET, one of America’s most prolific and respected public media providers. Throughout its 40 year history on public television, Great Performances has provided viewers across the country with an unparalleled showcase of the best in all genres of the performing arts, serving as America’s most prestigious and enduring broadcaster of cultural programming. Over the course of its four decades, the series has been the home to the greatest artists in the areas of drama, dance, musical theater, classical and popular music, providing many with their very first television exposure.
The Great Performances 40th Anniversary Gala is directed by David Horn and produced by Bill O’Donnell, Mitch Owgang, Richard R. Schilling and John Walker; David Horn is executive producer. The program is dedicated to popular music legend Phil Ramone, who served as music producer for the production before his untimely death in March 2013.
Major funding for the Great Performances telecast is provided by the Irene Diamond Fund, the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Arts Fund, The LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, Vivian Milstein, The Starr Foundation, The Agnes Varis Trust, Rosalind P. Walter, the Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, public television viewers and PBS.