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By Thomas Hischak

While enjoying BROADWAY'S LOST TREASURES II on GREAT PERFORMANCES, you may get nostalgic and feel that Broadway is not what it used to be. But Hugh Jackman is singing "Everything Old Is New Again" nightly in "The Boy from Oz," and many of the new Broadway productions are revivals of old favorites or modern versions of what made old-fashioned musicals so popular: spectacle, stars, romance, jokes, dancing, even chorus girls. In many ways the good old days are still here, though in a slightly disguised format.

Some theater historians consider the 1920s the golden age of the Broadway musical, when more than 100 shows opened each season. Others argue that the 1930s, with its sleek sophistication and pointed sense of satire, were the great days. Yet the 1940s introduced "Oklahoma!" (1943), the "musical play" as we know it today, and the 1950s originated the shows that are most often revived -- from "Guys and Dolls" (1950) to "The Sound of Music" (1959). There is even something to say for the big bright hits of the 1960s that could be escapist, like "Hello, Dolly!" (1964), or innovative, like "Cabaret" (1966). While business on Broadway was at an all-time low during the 1970s and 1980s, those decades saw some of the finest Sondheim musicals and the arrival of the British megahits.

So any age can be considered golden, depending on your point of view. But what about today? Can it be argued that these days, when Broadway musicals are breaking box-office records and shows can run longer than a decade, are golden in their own way? Broadway theaters are showing more musicals than they have in years, and the long runs are indeed long. The Times Square area has been revitalized and more old theaters are being restored annually, but the costs and the risks of producing on Broadway are also higher than ever. It is possible to have a smash hit and make millions, but it is also common to lose millions in a matter of days. And there is little in between. The modest hits are no longer possible; either a show is as huge as "The Producers" (2001) or as short-lived as "Sweet Smell of Success" (2002).

Top banner photos: Tony Award® (photo courtesy Steve and Anita Shevett); cast of "Les Misérables" (Photofest); Gwen Verdon, Jerry Orbach, and Chita Rivera from "Chicago" (Photofest).

Host Jerry Orbach

Jerry Orbach originated the roles of Billy Flynn in "Chicago" and Julian Marsh in "42nd Street."

Host Bebe Neuwirth

Bebe Neuwirth is starring in "Here Lies Jenny," an Off Broadway revue that runs through September 2004.

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This program is available on DVD.