(upbeat music) - [Narrator] Major funding for 'Great Performances' is provided by (upbeat music) and by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you.
I'm Jonathan Groff.
In 2003, filmmaker and Ardent Theatre lover Rick McKay released his landmark oral history 'Broadway: The Golden Age.'
Inspired by the ephemeral nature of live theater and infatuated with a bygone New York era he had only read about while growing up in Beach Grove, Indiana, Rick spent five years and traveled to four countries to preserve the memories of 100 Broadway legends.
Show makers from actors, directors, and choreographers to producers, composers, and even critics were encouraged by Rick's passion.
They opened up like never before, sharing their personal recollections, behind-the-scenes photos, and extraordinary home movies.
The result was a film which deeply inspired countless theater fans, including me.
In fact, when I first moved to New York City in 2004, I watched and re-watched it many times.
Today, I carry a piece of those artists with me every time I step onstage.
Since the premiere of that remarkable documentary, many other performers poured their hearts out to Rick as he recorded their theater stories, ensuring that they would not be lost to the ages.
Having amassed thousands of hours of memories, many of which had never been told, Rick was hard at work on furthering his epic chronicle when he passed away in January 2018.
By then, Rick and I had become friends.
That week in January, he came to see me perform an evening celebrating the life and music of Bobby Darin.
It was the last performance he ever attended.
I'm happy that Rick knew how much his support, his love of Broadway, and his devotion to preserving our theatrical history meant to me and all of us who find our light onstage or in the audience.
Rick was constantly re-editing and refining his follow-up film, which might have vanished forever if not for the tireless efforts of his producers.
Thanks to their dedication, Rick's project has finally been realized.
'Great Performances' is thrilled to honor the memories of those theatrical luminaries and Rick's memory with this special presentation of his long-awaited sequel.
Rick's portrait of Broadway from 1959 until the early 1980s is as compelling as the original.
So now, let's raise the curtain on 'Broadway: Beyond the Golden Age.'
-♪ There's no business ♪ ♪ Like show business ♪ ♪ Like no business I know ♪ ♪ Everything about it is appealing ♪ ♪ Everything the traffic ♪ ♪ Will allow ♪ ♪ Nowhere can you get that happy feeling ♪ ♪ When you are stealing that extra bow ♪ ♪ There's no people like show people ♪ -When I was in 'King and I,' I wanted to be at the theater right after school.
I loved to sign in, being the first to sign in.
-I didn't care about life, real life.
I wanted to get to the theater.
-You can't do anything except get ready for that night.
-I used to love the inside of a theater.
I love the smell of it.
-When you walk through that stage door, the air is different.
It feels different, it smells different.
-First off, there's always a stage-door guy.
-Back in the day, we had doormen.
-Pops was at the stage door.
I mean, it was so typical.
-Wilbur was his name.
My mother would say, you know, 'Wilbur, take care of her.'
-And then you go upstairs, and there's the wig lady and the makeup lady and the wardrobe mistress.
-The wardrobe lady, Evelyn Berkley, would help me with my homework.
-I did my homework backstage to the score, the live score, of 'Gypsy' every night.
-And then if you're lucky, you get to cross the stage to go to your dressing room.
-I would walk out on the stage and just look.
-Often I would walk down to the wings of the stage.
And there's nobody about, and it's quiet.
-Standing center stage and just breathing in.
-I think an empty theater is exciting, just to be in a theater.
-A womb. It's like a warm, safe, wonderful place.
-And it's quiet, and you're in the dark, and there's a light up there.
-There was just one ghost light.
And everything is just so eerie.
-I would arrive, and everything would be set up, ready for the evening.
-Your clothes are pressed, and your suit is made, and the shirt fits.
-My hairdresser and my dresser are just there to make sure that I get out there in time and looking my best.
-You are sitting down at your dressing table, and there's, you know, things that you have to do.
-Some people have a routine from which they don't deviate.
-I come in, and I go over the play.
-And that's when you get to start preparing, you get to start warming up your voice.
-♪ My romance doesn't need a silvery moon in the sky ♪ -In the beginning, when I first started, I used to get to the theater late.
-I would come to the theater when in '110 In the Shade' minutes before half-hour.
Like, I'm talking five minutes before, and I'd race in.
-Just come straight from a cocktail party and walk onstage.
-♪ Don't you have to get into it? ♪ No, I don't have to get into it. I'm in it.
-You could be in the middle of a dirty joke backstage, you walk on and make the audience cry, come back, and finish the joke.
-Sometimes before the play, I would go and mingle with the audience as they were coming into the theater and get that sense with them of excitement.
-And backstage, you can hear the audience filtering in because they have it on the speakers.
-'What are we going to see? What's the play going to be?'
-If they've heard, 'This is a great show,' they come in expecting it.
-And 'Pajama Game' was such a big hit.
It was standing room only every show.
People couldn't wait to get in the theater.
So there was that anticipatory sound in their voice.
And then your heart.
My heart always started to beat a little fast.
And I'd say, 'Wouldn't you think I'd get used to this?
I've been in this thing for a year and three months.
Wouldn't you think I'd get used to this by now?' Never.
-I literally -- Sometimes you sit there going, you know, 'Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.'
-You can hear the audience going, 'Ahh!'
And you go, 'Oh, my God, someone important just came into the house.'
And they say, 'Yes, Prince Aly Khan or Grace Kelly or Montgomery Clift or Fred Astaire is there tonight.' [ Gasps ] -I'm of the more blasé strain.
I don't like to get dressed, for instance, until five minutes.
-Five minutes! -'Don't tell me any more.
I don't want to know. I'll be too nervous.'
-I'd be playing Scrabble or playing cards up until the last minute while I'm putting on my makeup.
-And then, all of a sudden, when the crowd gets really big and it gets closer to the beginning of the show, they become one sound.
-And then it would grow and grow and grow.
-And that one sound is the beginning of associating with them as an audience.
-You're in your dressing room, and you can feel them.
You know they're out there, and you know that they're, like -- they're ready.
-The audience is what electrifies the performance.
When the audience is there, the plug goes in.
-And there's all this hustle and bustle backstage.
[ Imitates backstage noise ] -And down you'd go, get into place.
-You want me to tell you what the scariest word in the world is?
-'Places, places.' -'I gotta be ready.
My makeup, my hair, my thing.
Am I all right? Blah, blah, blah.
Oh, my God. I forgot to' -- All that stuff is going on.
-[ Breathes deeply ] You have to take a deep breath, like that.
And it's like sometimes you can't have enough air.
-This is it.
-The poor stage manager would be just pacing and praying that John would get there on time.
-But I would show up right before the curtain went up.
-And John would fly in.
He just had to slide that top on, pull on the pants, and run out onstage.
But I fixed it one night.
I sewed the pants leg shut.
[ Laughing ] He came in, and he's hopping, trying to get his pants on.
-When that conductor goes [tapping] -[ Imitates orchestra playing ] The overture would start.
-And that orchestra begins to play the overture.
I mean, there's nothing more exciting -- nothing.
-I will hear an overture play, and I will say to myself, 'Just don't start -- You've spent an hour trying to put this face on.
Just don't start crying now.'
-At that moment, Charles Nelson Reilly arriving.
-I was always late 'cause I didn't come on in the beginning.
-Walking across the stage before the show started and just getting to the wings as the curtain rose.
-I said, 'It's only a play. Don't get excited.
-Moments that I most appreciated was when everything got real quiet.
-Things start to hush, get quiet.
-You hear the [imitates curtain opening] of the curtain, and you hear the audience settle down.
-And you can just feel everybody kind of, like, getting ready in their seats.
-I love that. I love the tension.
I love the excitement of it.
-And the mirror parts, and you go... ♪ I am your angel of music ♪ -When you went on, it was quiet.
And you stepped into this kind of vacuum of respect.
-And you feel their energy, and you're giving that to them.
It's -- It's worth every second.
♪♪♪ -I went to UCLA, and I dropped out because I got a chance to go to New York.
A benefactor lent me $1,000.
So I -- I quit school.
And so, all of my buddies in school, they threw me a party, and they said, 'So what are you going to do, Carol, when you get to New York?'
And I had all these dreams, and I said, 'I'm gonna go to New York, and I'm gonna be onstage.
And the first thing I do is going to be directed by George Abbott.'
Well, everybody who was worth their salt in the Theater Arts department at UCLA knew who Mr. Abbott was and that he was the best, he was the king.
He was the one that you wanted to work for.
It wasn't, 'Gee, I hope I will.'
I just knew it. I got on a plane.
I arrived and thought, 'Well, I've got to meet George Abbott.'
-I was, you know, Richard Rodgers' daughter.
Brought up by my father, who said, 'Most people in the world get up every day, bored to death with what they're about to go off and have to do to make a living.
And I get up every day and look forward to what I'm going to be doing.'
And what I was thinking about was, 'There must be something I love to do.'
And I adored the theater.
'I have to find something to do in the theater.'
So that summer, I was an apprentice at the Westport Playhouse, just go out and look for props.
And then from the age of about 21, when I first started to write children's songs, I figured I could sneak in the back door and nobody would notice, nor did they, of course.
We auditioned 'Once Upon a Mattress,' which was then called 'The Princess and the Pea,' for George Abbott, who said, 'Listen, I think it's swell. I like it very much.
But I only have till May, and you'll never have enough time to get it done by May.
So if you can get it done by May, I have May free, and I'll direct it.'
So we got it done.
-By then, I was living in New York, looking for jobs.
I had an apartment, a small one-room with my sister, and I was married.
In the r-- All in one room.
And I had auditioned for Rodgers and Hart.
They were going to revive 'Babes in Arms,' and Stanley Prager was directing.
And it looked pretty good that I was going to get the role.
I was so excited.
And then Stanley came over, and he said, 'You didn't get it.
They gave it to someone who had a name.'
And I said, 'Oh, my...' -And meanwhile, Nancy Walker had agreed to do the show.
But we had already accepted the fact that George Abbott, he didn't want to direct a star.
He wanted to create one.
And we couldn't find the right person.
And Judy Abbott, George's daughter, who was his casting director, called up one morning and said, 'There's a woman called Carol Burnett.'
And I said to Marshall, who was down the hall, 'Now, what did you hear?'
'We're supposed to look at somebody called Carol Burnett.'
He came galloping down the hallway and said, 'I don't know why we didn't think of her. She's brilliant!'
-So I didn't get it, 'Babes in Arms.'
And I was so close, and I cried.
You know, I thought, 'Oh, this would have been it.'
And I swear to God, within...30 minutes, the phone rang, and it was Jean Eckart.
And she said, 'My husband and I are producing a show called 'Once Upon a Mattress.'' -And she said, 'What are you doing?'
And she said, 'Nothing.'
'Well, come on down to 28th Street and sing for Mary.'
-'And it's going to be directed by George Abbott.'
-She was unbelievable.
And she was also too attractive. She didn't look shlumpy enough.
So we said, 'What's the ugliest thing you have in your wardrobe?'
She said, 'Well, I have a tacky suit sort of sitting.'
Perfect. Put on your tacky suit, and come down on Friday when we have callbacks, and audition for George Abbott.'
-And I walked in, it was like a dream.
And there was Mr. Abbott.
And I was in this kind of daze.
I was nervous, but I wasn't.
I was like, 'Here it is.'
And I went home, and the phone rang within an hour, and he said, 'Can you sign for a year?'
Oh, well, you know?
And had I gotten the other one, I wouldn't have had it, you know.
-And then there was the problem of casting the queen.
Jane White was Walter White, the head honcho of the NAACP, a Black guy, he was her father.
She was a very well-educated Smith graduate.
-Early on, I got fired from a couple of plays because it was determined that I wasn't Black enough.
And my father was outraged.
He was going to -- Oh, he was going to take up the phones and call people like Harry Truman and Margaret.
And I had to calm him down and tell him, 'No, no, no, no, no.'
Because Broadway wasn't ready to see Black people in anything but a certain color, a certain attitude, certain manner of speaking.
Because, I have to tell you, there have been years between jobs -- two years, one year.
So anyway, subsequently, and we're talking now about 1959, this man named Jack Sydow called me up and said, 'Jane, I'm working as the assistant to George Abbott on a new musical, and there's a part in it that you would be really marvelous for.'
I said, 'Yes, yes? What's the part?'
He said, 'It's the part of a queen.
It's some medieval kind of musical.'
-And George said, 'What are you bringing her in for?
We can't have a Negro playing the queen in a medieval kingdom.
It just doesn't work.
Sorry. Tell her to go home.'
-I went home.
That night the phone rang, and it was Jack.
And he said, 'Jane, you were terrific today.
George Abbott loved you.
But...' I said, 'Well, but what?'
He said, 'Well, he thought you looked a little too, um, Mediterranean.'
And I said, 'You mean too Negro.'
Because that's what we were called and called ourselves then.
'I looked too Negro?'
He said, 'Yes.'
I said, 'Well, I guess that's it, huh?'
He said, 'No, no.
Mary and Marshall Barer and Jay Thompson and Dean Fuller and I have a plot.'
-There was a well-known photographer and makeup artist called Marcus Blechman.
-Jack said, 'Well, he's going to make you look more Anglo-Saxon.'
So I said, 'Jack, I'll call you back.'
If your father was the head honcho at the NAACP and then you put on whiteface and went off and got a part in an off-Broadway show, it would be a little awkward.
-'They want a white actress.
So let them get a white actress.'
Then I thought, 'On the other hand'... I wanted it so much.
And I thought, 'Now, Jane, let's make sense.
Isn't that what actors are all about?
I mean, doesn't Laurence Olivier put on a wart and a funny nose and a humpback or whatever?'
So I picked up the phone. I called Jack.
I said, 'Yes.'
They set up the appointment.
I went and met this enchanting man Marcus Blechman at his studio.
And he worked away.
He said, 'All right, now, Jane, look at yourself.'
I opened my eyes, and here was this kind of... utterly different face.
I came to call it my Ingrid Bergman face later on, because I looked so different.
Somebody came, picked me up, swept me off to whatever theater it was.
The stage monitor announced Jane White.
-And George said in a very loud voice, 'I told you people, we can't have a Black queen.'
And we all said, 'Shh, George, just shh.'
-And I read again.
-He did shut up.
She sang brilliantly.
-And then I went home, and then Jack called and said, 'Well, it's yours.'
-He gave in instantly, and we never heard another word about it.
-Now, this is the queen.
And, oh, she is a mean one.
She's the kind of queen who insists on wearing the royal pants.
Uh, actually, she has a very pleasant disposition, but she's so nasty all the time, you'll never notice it.
-It was very exciting, 'Mattress,' because the critics came on opening night.
I tell you, the electricity was fantastic.
She's all wet!
-Actually, I swam the moat.
[ Laughter ] Oh, but never mind, if I just stand right here, there's a nice draft.
I'll be dry in no time.
-You swam the moat?! -Uh-huh. -We tried to stop her, but she wouldn't wait for the drawbridge.
-You swam the moat?! -Uh-huh.
-She seemed determined to arrive as soon as possible.
-We had to get a rope to pull her out.
-You swam the moat?! -Well, all right I was a little anxious, but I heard you had an opening for a princess.
I figured the early bird -- -Aah!
-[ Sighs ] It was... a dream, a dream come true.
♪ I'm insane to know which sir? ♪ ♪ You, sir? ♪ -♪ Not I, sir ♪ -♪ Then who, sir? ♪ ♪ Where, sir, and when, sir, I couldn't be tenser ♪ ♪ Let's get this done, man, get on with the fun, man ♪ ♪ I am one man ♪ -♪ The lady is one man ♪ -♪ Shy ♪ [ Applause ] -The thrill of an opening night when all the critics came to one performance, when you knew that those cards and letters and notes and flowers meant that this was the night you were going to be judged and looked at, I cannot tell you how exciting that was and how the adrenaline of it was.
-There was a, uh, tension and a madness about -- about opening night which made it very special.
-It's the first time that this material has ever been done in front of these wonderful people out there.
And it's your responsibility to get it over to them right.
-It was theater, real theater.
The critics had to leave before the final curtain to rush back to the papers.
-Like all big opening nights back in those days, we're, like, at Sardi's.
-I mean, I was living low on the hog in those days.
I mean, I didn't have much money at all.
I'd never been to Sardi's. I'd certainly heard about it.
And, 'We're going to Sardi's?'
I walked in, and there was applause.
People applauded our entrance at Sardi's.
But this time, I was convinced this was a major success.
-I mean, they would cram you all into one table, way, way, way in the back of Sardi's.
But, I mean, you'd never gotten into Sardi's before.
So, hey, it was a big deal, you know?
-And it was teeming with agents and the actors, people coming in, waving, saying, 'Beautiful. Great performance.'
[ Indistinct conversations ] I ordered a big meal.
And phone was brought to the table.
A phone, brought to your table?
And Liz, I remember Liz calling her mother in Louisiana or someplace saying, 'Mom, Mom.'
[ Stammers ] God. I don't know -- Who am I going to call?
There's nobody for me to call.
-And everyone's laughing and giggling, and all the while, you're thinking, 'Oh, God, what are those reviews going to be like?'
-And suddenly, this hand is thrusting into the table saying, And the agents at the table, mine included, literally clawed their way to get the paper.
My agent got it. He says, 'I got it. I got it. Got it.
A bomb was dropped in the form of a play tonight at the something theater, Walter Kerr.'
I mean, it was like a gut shot.
And he read this horrible review, and he said, 'Well, I'll wait for the And suddenly the came, and they scramble for it.
It was worse.
It was a disaster, a disaster.
It just got thoroughly panned.
And I sat there, like, in shock.
-It was a huge flop, right?
I mean, the critics just really didn't buy it.
They didn't go for it.
-Now, the moment that happened, people started exiting.
'See ya. Take care. Bye-bye.'
-People just faded away.
-The whole place emptied out.
Most of this table emptied out.
And I was there alone. -That's right!
Redford was left at the table with all the food!
Oh, God, that's funny. [ Laughs ] And then of course 'The Highest Tree' closed like that, overnight.
And then, I don't know, at, what, 20 or 21 years old, whatever I was at the time, they all thought I was, like, pretty cute.
Neil Simon had an idea, and Stark Hesseltine said they were sending over the first four or five pages of the play and an outline.
And if you're interested, he would like to write this play for you.
And I read it in a cab going downtown, and I just laughed my ass off.
I mean, I just, I fell off the seat laughing, and, I mean, it was Mike Nichols' first job as a director.
I mean, think about it. I mean, it's just remarkable.
And they were all talking about who could play the guy.
But I said, 'Well, what about my pal, Bob?' right?
-So, later on, when 'Barefoot in the Park' came, I said, 'Guys, excuse me,' I didn't want to get into -- 'I don't want to offend anybody.
I'm not going to do an opening night thing.'
And of course, they were begging.
The PR guy was on his hand-- his hands and knees.
And he said, 'Please, please, my job.'
I says, 'Come on. I'm not going to do it.'
Oh, God, there was a lot of action, certainly.
The laughs were uproarious, and it was, uh, it certainly felt -- it was like thunderous, the response.
And when it was over, the place was clogged with people doing the same thing.
My God, this is wonderful. Pictures, pictures, photo ops.
People were kind of crazed in the cast.
You know, they were so excited and delirious with the fever of it all.
And I almost did go. Uh, they really pleaded with me and told me how it would be offensive if I didn't.
And this was the first time in history that a major network was going to cover a party at Tavern on the Green.
-You know, they had the version then of, like, the red carpet and all the photographers and everything.
And they wanted pictures of me and Redford together.
-I suddenly stopped, and I saw the fever.
The fever was rampant in there.
-I remember it being a total zoo.
I mean, it was huge, because Mike Nichols, I mean everybody in the world, he knew everybody in the world, and everybody, everybody was there.
-I said, 'I wasn't going to do this, and I'm not.'
And so I said, 'I'm really sorry. I'm not going in.'
-And Bob did leave.
I know that because I was at that time into this relationship with George Peppard.
And people kept thinking because I was next to him that George Peppard was Bob Redford.
And I think Bob Redford had split.
-I just walked right out into the park, and I walked straight across the park to the East Side and went to a bar, had a couple drinks, walked all the way down to the Algonquin where I was staying.
And I decided to walk down to Times Square.
And I walked down to Times Square and got the papers to see what was going.
And it was a tremendous hit, great rave reviews.
And I thought, 'Hmm, what do you know?'
And then I went back to the hotel, and there was a stack of messages, 'Call your agent.'
-But we always forgave Bob, because that's how Bob was.
And he was smarter and more artistic and better than us.
'Cause all we wanted was to be in a hit play.
But Bob, Bob wanted finer things than that.
♪♪♪ -I came to New York with my mother.
I was 13, and I saw 'Bye Bye Birdie.'
And I thought, 'Oh, that's what I want to do.'
-Initially, it was ballet for me.
And from 6 to about 13, I was a ballet girl, you know?
But when I saw 'Bye Bye Birdie' on Broadway, and I saw these young people who are my age doing this amazing stuff on Broadway, I just went, 'Yeah! I got to change directions.'
-The first time he read the script, Gower was not really happy about rock 'n' roll.
I mean, he thought that Elvis was very talented, but he said, 'I just wish it were not about a rock singer who's going off to war.'
And I said, 'Well, you'll think of something.'
And so he made a hilarious fool out of Dick Gautier, who played Birdie, the Elvis-type part.
-I read for a lot of plays.
Got calls back.
Well, one day, I was auditioning for 'Bye Bye Birdie.'
I didn't know what that was.
And I did 'Once in Love with Amy,' my favorite Ray Bolger number with a little bit of a soft shoe.
And Gower Champion came up on the stage and says, 'You have the part.'
[ Laughs ] This doesn't really happen except in the movies.
-'Bye Bye Birdie,' my first show, I made $127 a week, and that was for playing my own part, Mr. Henkel, and for understudying, uh, Dick Van Dyke and Paul Lynde, and for playing for Mr. Lynde every Thursday, when he was live on 'The Perry Como Show.'
So those three jobs managed to get it up to $127 a week.
-I think that Chita and I drove Gower a little crazy.
Chita and I hit it off like that from the very moment.
And we clowned a lot, and we laughed a lot.
-We're so busy trying to make the company happy so that we have a great family. And then you have a great show.
-We did get in trouble. We were like two rotten little kids.
We couldn't help it. We made each other laugh.
He did get very angry at us a few times.
-The first thing you did was 'The Telephone Hour,' which was the opening number.
All the kids were displayed on this kind of Mondrian -- yeah.
I said, 'This is an opening of a show that can't miss.'
It's just, there's something about that.
-This is the process that I, that I always, even to this day think -- think works.
Go someplace and work on the show.
-For us, it was Philadelphia.
That was all the money they had was enough, was just four weeks in Philly.
-That way, you don't feel as though you're in the middle of 42nd Street, and everybody's looking at the operation.
-Many years later, Marge Champion told me that the producers wanted to replace me in Philadelphia, that I'd just -- they didn't think I was good enough.
-He had done a record act with his brother.
He was a very charming and funny guy, but he had never carried a Broadway show.
-And it was Gower who said, 'Give the kid a break. He'll be all right.'
-They wrote 'Put on a Happy Face' for Chita.
And Gower said 'She doesn't need it.
She's got,' and he named off all the songs.
-'Look, the skinny kid hasn't got anything to do.
Why don't you give him the song?'
-That's when Gower saved his neck.
-[ Vocalizing ] ♪ Gray skies are gonna clear up, put on a happy face ♪ ♪ Brush off the clouds and cheer up ♪ ♪ Put on a happy face ♪ ♪ Take off the gloomy mask of tragedy, it's not your style ♪ ♪ You'll look so good that you'll be glad ♪ ♪ You decided to smile ♪ ♪ Pick out a pleasant outlook, stick out that noble chin ♪ ♪ Wipe off that full of doubt look, slap on a happy grin ♪ ♪ And spread sunshine all over the place ♪ ♪ Just put on a happy face ♪ -The audience was just all his, all his, and not a line didn't work.
-♪ Put on a happy face ♪ ♪♪♪ ♪ Put on a happy face ♪ -It almost stopped the show.
-Since I was not a dancer, not trained, he was so good at taking what I could do and forming it into a piece of choreography.
He made me look great.
♪♪♪ And I owe it to Gower Champion that I was still in.
♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Applause ] -'Bye Bye Birdie' won the Tony, won everything, was in every high school, 30, 40 years ago.
It's still being played all over the world.
-It still is performed an awful lot in schools and jails. [ Laughter ] -I probably have 50 tapes of high school performances of 'Bye Bye Birdie.' Everybody's sends them to me.
- There is definitely no business like show business.
- No there is not.
And this film does a great job of describing the magic of live theater, from the stage door and the ghost light, to the crackle of the audience as they start to come together before the show starts.
- It's so exciting.
Places everyone, because the drama is just beginning.
It's like we're all hanging out backstage, listening to stories from our favorite Broadway stars.
It is such a thrill.
Hi everyone, I'm Stacy Sweet joined by Justin Guarini, a Broadway star in his own right.
And we are honored to be with you for this intimate look back at a remarkable moment in time on Broadway.
- It is so remarkable.
And there's so much more to come.
We'll hear from more legends like Glenn Close, Candy Brown, Ben Vereen, and so many others.
- The list goes on.
But first we're taking a quick intermission to ask you to applaud the great musical theater, and drama, and arts you find right here on this station.
- That's right, it's your turn to take center stage.
So go online right now to show your support with the incredible storytelling you find on your PBS station.
- And when you make a qualifying donation, you'll receive Passport, a terrific member of benefit.
Take a look.
- [Narrator] Is there a program you'd like to watch again?
Maybe your performance you didn't get a chance to see.
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[upbeat music] - We have certainly come a long way from VHS.
I love the idea that Dick Van Dyke has stacks of videotapes from high school productions of Bye Bye Birdie.
- Who doesn't?
We did Annie, we did Damn Yankees for my high school musical, it was so much fun.
What about you?
- We did Pirates of Penzance, the Mystery of Edwin Drood, a little off the beaten path, but it was so much fun.
Now perhaps you are reminiscing about your early memories of the stage too.
That moment when you first fell in love with the theater.
For many young people in this community and around the country, PBS was the first place they saw a professional theatrical production.
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- Growing up I loved acting, I loved the theater, and I was lucky enough to go to Broadway shows, but Justin, my greatest memory is going to the theater, and then going to the stage door and waiting for the stars to sign that playbill.
[Justin laughs] It was amazing.
- Well I know that was special for you, it's also special for us too, because we get to go out and sign autographs, and really connect and answer questions with the people who come and support this community, who make it so vibrant.
And that is what is special about theater.
The relationship, with the cast and the crew, and the people who come to see the show.
It's all about connection and collaboration between the production and the audience.
- And you know what, that's also true of PBS.
PBS is made up of member stations that span the entire country, including this one.
And local stations are supported by individual members, folks just like you, your friends, and your neighbors.
In fact, member donations make up the lion's share of revenue for each station.
So when you become a member, you become an essential partner in all the wonderful programs you enjoy right here.
- It is incredible.
You know, seeing a musical in person is now a rare treat for me, like it is for a lot of people.
It's not something I get to do very often.
And that's one reason why so many of us value PBS.
When you think of the shows, and the behind the scenes performance documentaries you've enjoyed on PBS like, Romeo and Juliet.
- [Stacy] Much Ado About Nothing, 42nd street.
- And Fiddler A Miracle of Miracles, and so many others, you realize that you're still getting the best seats and backstage passes to some of the best shows out there.
And it's thanks to this PBS station.
Think about the value that has for you, and go online now to make your donation.
One that reflects your appreciation for all the great theater you get to enjoy right here.
We thank you so much for your support.
Now, back to the show.
-Broadway doesn't particularly like Hollywood, and Hollywood doesn't particularly like Broadway.
-It was unusual to have a dual personality.
Either you were in New York, or you were in the movies.
-Broadway stars would like to go and become Hollywood stars.
-Dreaming that it might give them thousands, hundreds of thousands of dollars, so that they can then, they think, do what they want, but it never works that way.
-The camera has to love you.
It doesn't mean you have to be beautiful, but the camera has to love you.
-Or they don't love the camera.
For some reason, they feel self-conscious, or they're too much aware of the camera.
-Ethel Merman onstage in New York was like the national flag coming out.
And yet in films, she was just another face in -- in a way.
She was not the same blessed as she was in New York.
-The delivery didn't belong anywhere else but in the theater.
-Musicals when I did them were not mic'd at all.
You had to have a voice that would reach the balcony.
-They literally had to sing over the orchestra pit.
-It's certainly is a different medium and requires a different kind of concentration.
-For stage, we work from here.
It comes up from here.
That's probably not good for film.
Film is all here.
-It's all about the eyes. That's -- That pulls the lens.
-Either people have it, or they don't.
If they do, it reaches out and touches you.
And it doesn't always have to do with talent.
-Some people are so arresting on-camera, and they're not as arresting in front of an audience.
And some people are so powerful in the theater, and they kind of wash away on-camera.
I-I was introduced to him, and I said, 'What is the difference between film acting and stage acting?'
And Mr. Stewart said, 'Ms. Grimes, the difference is onstage, you use your whole body to express something.
In film, it is the photography of the mind.'
-I was much too loud when I -- [ Laughs ] when I first started acting, and they say, 'Wait, wait, wait, Miss.'
-[ Quietly ] Most of the time, they talk just like this.
They don't -- I mean, a lot of the time, they're just very quiet.
[ Loudly ] And I'm used to talking like this.
-In the movie I did with Woody Allen, I played Mia Farrow's mother.
So they said, 'Action.' It's the first day on-set.
I came through the door, and I went 'Lane!'
and Woody Allen went -- And there wasn't a word said, and I just walked out the door again.
And the guy said again, 'Action.'
I came in. I said, 'Lane.'
-The first film I ever did was with Robert Morris, uh, 'Honeymoon Hotel,' I think it was called.
-That's right, 'Honeymoon Hotel.'
-Well, the two Bobs from Broadway, and one of us went up, and the other one went along.
We ad-libbed. We kept it going because we're from the theater.
-We improvised for five minutes.
We didn't know. Director had to stop us.
-And the director said... -'Cut.'
-And he said, 'Gentlemen, this is film.
We can start again.'
-Oh, it's okay to make a mistake.
[ Laughter ] -On 'The Trouble with Harry,' I memorized all my lines.
I thought I was supposed to know them all.
-Shirley MacLaine in her screen debut.
-I hit him over the head with a milk bottle, nothing silly.
I somehow thought we were going to shoot the whole picture in one day. I don't know.
-When you're in the movies, you're in a studio all day, 6:00 in the morning till 6:00 at night with no audience.
I mean, what is that?
-It was a very difficult adjustment to make, uh, early in the morning shooting.
-They make you up, you get in your costume and you -- And I'm ready to go. And you don't go.
-It's piecework. It's tedious and long.
And there's long waiting times.
You sit and sit and sit while they light.
-That's one of the things about doing films is always that hurry up and wait.
-Film is two-minute acting.
Film is two minutes, and you're up. That's it.
-Five lines. And then say, 'I don't remember the next one.'
'Well, okay. Tell her the next one.
And we'll shoot it with the next one.'
I mean, what is that? That's not acting, is it?
-It's like, I'm the director.
And I say, 'Okay, uh, I want you to just turn your head really fast toward me.'
You know? 'Cut. Thank you.'
-The crew applauds that you were able to do a scene for five minutes.
Oh, that must -- Unbelievable. How do you remember all that?
-I don't know. I got impatient.
And I wanted to go to the theater.
-Film acting is coitus interruptus.
-I stood in the wings all the time, because I'd never had any experience at all with Broadway.
So I learned by standing in the wings and watching all of them.
The first one was, was Ethel Merman.
And I couldn't understand how powerful this force was, you know?
And that voice, it was just out there, you know? It was just amazing.
-I basically learned everything about acting at that time from watching Inga Swenson in the wings every night, because she was staggering, what she would do.
-♪ Is it really me? ♪ ♪ Is it really true? ♪ ♪ Suddenly I'm beautiful ♪ ♪ Being here with you ♪ -I was lucky enough to do 'Three to Make Ready' with Ray Bolger.
And I watched Ray Bolger for 10 months, every single show from the wings.
And I was smart enough when I was young to just study Ray Bolger.
He never missed a show, and he always stopped the show, and he never warmed up. I couldn't believe it.
-1948, I tried out for 'Mister Roberts.'
First play I ever tried out for.
Got the part.
And I always watched from the wings.
I loved watching Hank Fonda from the wings, never knowing that someday he would become such a dear friend and a leading man with me onstage.
-I remember sitting in the audience of 'Dreamgirls,' the end of the first act to see and hear Jennifer Holiday sing 'And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going.'
-♪ And time and time, we've had so much to see and ♪ ♪ No, no, no, no, no, no, no ♪ ♪ I'm not waking up tomorrow morning, ha, ha ♪ ♪ And finding that there's nobody there ♪ -It was as if this hurricane of emotion was just coming at you.
Ever see the cartoons where the lion roars, and the people are pinned to the wall?
It was like that.
-♪ You're gonna love ♪ [ Gasps ] ♪ Me ♪ -I stayed with the show for a long time.
And anytime she sang, I always stayed in the wings and watched that. It was magic.
-You would stand in the wings and watch and say, '[ Gasps ] My God. How can I do that?
What are they doing? What can I learn?'
-I did 'Let's Face It!'
with Danny Kaye, and I stood in the wings and watched him.
And what he did with his hands was a miracle to me, 'cause he had these great, beautiful, graceful hands, and I would copy him.
I would stand off the stage and watch him.
And some reviewer way down the line said that they loved the way I used my hands, and I never told them that I was copying Danny Kaye.
-I can tell you the moment that I went, 'Oh, my God. I am going to gear my life towards working in the Broadway musical theater.'
It was in 1972, and it was when I saw 'Pippin.'
-My agent called me, and he said, 'Bob Fosse wants you to do 'Pippin.'' And he said, 'I read the script.'
He said, 'And this show has a... 30% chance of making it.'
And I looked at him, and I said, 'If Bob Fosse's doing it, I'm going to do that 30% with him.'
-First day rehearsal was just a read-through.
We sat around the table, and that's when we found out who was there, John Rubinstein with his cute, little, curly-headed self.
And then we found out he had a wife and baby, because, you know, he walked in, and we were all like, 'Mm, cute.'
-Oh, I thought the company I was in was fantastic.
To stand in the room with Ben Vereen?
-John Rubinstein [Chuckles] my buddy, Leland Palmer, um, Jill Clayburgh, Irene Ryan, Pam Sousa, and Candy Brown.
And she was -- she was gorgeous.
-We sat down that day to read through the script.
-And it was enter Pippin.
Enter Theo. Enter the King.
And I'm really getting depressed.
-I didn't get it.
-I thought there was no role. And I said, 'Oh, God.'
-I remember thinking to myself, 'Oh, Lordy Lou.
I left 'Sugar' for this?'
-And Bob's sitting right across from me at the end of the table.
And he sort of giggles to himself, and he said, 'I want you to read up on people like Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson, Jimmy Slide, all the Black entertainers.'
And I feel ashamed of saying this being in the business -- I hadn't really known about them until Bob Fosse.
He introduced them to me. And it's a blessing that he did, because it opened up a whole -- a plethora of other things in my life.
-The show started with that unforgettable opening number, you know, 'Magic to Do.'
-♪ Join us, come and waste an hour or two ♪ -People thought we were wearing gloves.
We weren't wearing gloves. It's just the way the light hit.
All you saw were hands going around, and then you take your robe off and step through the light.
-♪ Rivers belong where they can ramble ♪ ♪ Eagles belong where they can fly ♪ ♪ I've got to be where my spirit can run free ♪ ♪ Got to find my corner ♪ ♪ Of the sky ♪ [ Vocalizing in falsetto ] ♪♪♪ -And on the afternoon of our opening night in New York, Fosse looked at Irene Ryan, who was Granny on 'The Hillbillies,' you know, old vaudeville, you know, actress.
And he said, 'Irene, don't come out for a curtain call.'
-You ought to know it by now. Come on.
-♪ Oh, it's time to start livin' ♪ ♪ Time to take a little from this world we're given ♪ ♪ Time to take time, 'cause spring will turn to fall ♪ ♪ In just no time at all ♪ -I think Bob knew this number was going to stop the show.
I don't know how, but, you know, he's just brilliant like that.
-She does her number. I'm sitting there watching her.
They carry her off. Stops the show.
-Well, the audience went nuts for her, nuts for her.
I mean, Ryan, come on.
-They went absolutely nuts every night.
There was no stopping it.
-The stage manager would keep trying to say, 'Irene, go -- go back to your dressing room. Go -- Get out of the way.'
-And she said, 'Honey, you know, I waited all this time to come back on Broadway, and I'm going to stand here and enjoy it.'
-And hear every last drop of applause.
-Although if you read the reviews, didn't get that great of reviews.
-We were a flop.
-Business was terrible.
-It did okay.
-And Bob said to Stuart Ostrow, the producer, 'I got an idea.'
-There had never been a live TV commercial.
-Fosse, I believe, was editing 'Lenny' then and didn't think he could make it.
-It was Ben, Pam Sousa, and myself.
-And the cameraman was shooting it just straight at us.
-And the next thing you know, Bob was just directing it.
-He took that cameraman, and he had him all over the bar.
-He was up on a ladder having the guy shoot down.
-Had him in front. -Off to the side.
-Had him up in the rafters.
-Down below shooting up.
♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -We were young, and we were adventurous, and we put our -- our lives in Fosse's hands.
And we flew with him.
-I'm still friends with a lot of them today.
-We really loved each other. We did everything together, and we would have parties for no reasons.
-We were in the basement, the chorus kids.
-We would just have a great time.
-♪ Magic to do just for you ♪ ♪ We've got miracle plays to play ♪ ♪ We've got parts to perform, hearts to warm ♪ ♪ Kings and things to take by storm ♪ ♪ As we go along our way ♪ -That's terrific. [ Laughter ] -I once told Steven Schwartz, I said, 'We should do 'Pippin' 20 years, 30 years later.'
He went, 'Oh, well, yes, I'm thinking about it.
I got this little project I'm working on about these witches.'
[ Laughs ] -Dancers were looked upon as people that couldn't really think or talk or articulate.
-We were the lowest man on the totem pole, that we got paid the least amount of money, that we worked the hardest, that we busted our butts, that we got no credit.
-And were relegated to creating the scenery or the backdrop for a show, but ultimately did not contribute that much to whatever a show was.
-Michon and I sat down and went, 'We have to do something for ourselves.'
-And decided to put together a show that dancers do about dancers.
-Tony called me about the idea of getting this group of dancers together.
-You know, I kind of thought about it and wasn't too sure.
Uh, didn't know who else was going to be there, and I think I even asked. 'Well, Michael's going to be there.
Michael Bennett's going to come down.'
And that peaked my interest.
-Michael Bennett? I'll be there.
-When Michael asked you to do something, you did it.
-When Michael calls, you go.
-And I go, 'Thommie, you going?'
And he'll go, 'Yeah, Michael Bennett's going.
I might as well go.' -That's why we went to Michael.
We went to Michael because we knew he had power, and people wanted to work for him and that there would be interest.
-And we all met at midnight one night.
-We went over to Thommie's house.
-And it was upstairs, but it's always upstairs.
It's always up a steep and very narrow stairway.
-You know me, I was just a freshman.
I had only done like, uh, three Broadway shows.
-Here, we were with people you knew.
You were people you didn't know.
You were with people you liked, maybe people you didn't like.
-All these people that I knew from auditions, you know, that I'd written off for whatever reason.
'Oh, that guy -- Oh.' -But the one common denominator that we did know is we were dancers, and that's the first thing that we did was dance.
-And then suddenly, we're dancing.
-And I was like, 'Why am I here taking a class?
I just finished doing two shows. I got another show tomorrow.'
-And then in the middle of us dancing, in comes Michael Bennett with Donna McKechnie, and suddenly, it got, 'Oh.'
-I do remember it, like, heightening the whole experience 'cause it was Michael Bennett.
-I had known Donna first in 'Promises, Promises' when she was a principle performer.
Michael Bennett, you know, created 'Turkey Lurkey' really for her.
She had never done chorus when I'd known her at all.
And, I mean, I knew that she was -- she and Michael were like a team or that, you know, he was her mentor and protector.
-We all literally sat around in a half circle.
-Michael was up against the wall over here.
-Michael Bennett says, um, 'I think that dancers have a story to tell.
And, um, I'm going to ask you some questions, and I'm going to tape them.'
-He wanted to be very honest.
He gave a nice, little speech about, 'I'm just trying to find this. I don't know what we have here.'
-They were about our childhood and dah, dah, dah, dah.
-We're going to talk about your life, from a child up to the time you got to Broadway.
-And one by one, he asked us, 'How did you get into show business?
Uh, why? What was your first job?'
-'You don't have to answer anything you don't want, but whatever you do say, just be honest.'
-'But the women don't have to give their ages.'
And I went, 'Wait a minute.'
I said, 'You just went through this whole speech about honesty and openness and equality and the whole thing.'
I said, 'Why shouldn't the women give their ages?'
-And pretty much like the way the show goes, Michael started off.
And he would say, 'Well, I grew up in Buffalo.'
He was so honest and so forthcoming that everyone just kind of shed their fears.
And they went, 'Well if Michael's talking like this and so honestly in front of all these people, then we can do the same thing.'
-I-I said something amazing like, 'I'm going to be 30 real soon, and I'm real glad.'
-In the middle of somebody's story, somebody else would say, 'Oh, my God. That happened to me,' or, 'Oh, I totally understand that.'
-Michael found more than not that we -- there were common experiences.
So those were the stories that interested him, because if three and four people could have -- could see 'The Red Shoes' and get inspired by 'The Red Shoes,' then we got to put 'The Red Shoes' in there.
-The story 'I Can Do That' is my story.
It's one of the stories that I told night of the tape session.
My sister went to dancing school, and when she stopped going to dancing school, I kept going to dancing school.
-Of course, we were all devastated by Nic Dante's story.
You know, it was really so sad.
-I mean, it's practically verbatim from that night.
the Paul monologue. -In fact, I would say it's not pretty much, I'd say it is verbatim.
-My stories, um, are in six different characters, or some bits of my life are in six different characters.
-And it was like a floodgate, because all of us just like -- we're pouring ourselves out.
-Every time I would try to explain something, if I was the least bit emotionally connected to whatever I was trying to say, I would cry.
-She cried all the time! I wanted to kill her.
-In those days, I used to cry at the drop of a hat.
-There were some people that could hardly speak at all.
There were other people that would break down in tears because they had a wonderful life.
-I listened to these stories, and one by one, they would say, 'Well, I had to run away from home to be in show business,' or, 'I had to sneak my ballet shoes into the bag,' or, 'Um, I had to dance to get out of my house, 'cause it was so crazy.'
Or, you know, all these stories.
And I remember thinking, 'Oh, my God.
I'm gonna sound like 'Leave it to Beaver' or something.'
'Cause I was like, well, my parents are just happy that I'm happy.
-We would find ourselves, like, all running to Candy Brown and hugging her, 'cause she had a great life.
And the other 25 of us had, you know, a trying, unusual, dramatic kind of childhood.
But there was one person in there that had a normal, healthy childhood.
-And I thought, 'I'm kind of a disappointment.
Here I am, the Black kid.
I should have some struggle, some ghetto I came out of and --' You know, and I didn't have it.
-People somehow let their guard down and talked about their childhoods in very open ways.
Look at this. I am going to cry.
Damn it. I said I wasn't going to cry.
But it was very touching.
-No matter what relationship you had with the people in the room, whether you were the rival, you were jealous of them, you were lovers with them, no matter what, we all knew at that moment that we were all dancers, and you cannot explain the experience of dancing unless you dance.
-It was an amazing story, evening, 11 1/2 hours.
-We started at 12:00 midnight and we ended at 12:00 noon.
All night, we went.
-Anyway, that's how it first started.
And that was all taped.
-And basically what you see up on that stage of 'A Chorus Line' are those tape sessions.
-We are the authors, no matter what, because the genesis is almost word for word what we said that night.
-Down to 'What do you do when you can't dance anymore?'
It is the show.
-I actually, as a senior in college, went through a series of auditions and ended up with my first job with a Phoenix rep to understudy the three female leads and to have a little tiny role in each play.
-I thought immediately, I was in the presence of someone with huge talent.
And, uh, I did not have time to rehearse her, because we were doing 'Love for Love' with Mary Ure and John McMartin and all those people.
-And I was understudying Mary Ure.
She was absolutely exquisitely beautiful.
She was in groundbreaking theater productions.
She was in 'Look Back in Anger.'
-Let it grow. Let a recognizable human face emerge from this -- this little mass of India rubber and wrinkles.
-She was married to Robert Shaw.
Um, but she was, you know, there was something going on.
She was having a hard time remembering her lines.
She -- She was not happy.
It was, you know, and I knew standing behind her in the wings that she was terrified.
-She was a very fragile, very gifted, very, very emotional, marvelously available lady, but Mary Ure could not remember her lines.
She said to me, 'Don't worry, I'm a money player, Hal.
I'll -- I'll be there at the first night with all the lines.'
-I walked in to the stage door before the matinee.
-We opened in the evening of a matinee day.
-And Hal said 'Glenn.'
And he took me out to the stage.
He said, 'I'm thinking of letting Ms. Ure go.
I will make my decision during the matinee performance.
So I want you to go back up to your dressing room after the curtain.
And if they -- And if you hear that you're wanted down in costumes, the decision is made, and I want you to go on tonight.
Can you do it?'
And this is a restoration comedy.
It was wasn't like I -- And I said, 'Yes.'
I went up to my dressing room, and it was very, very difficult.
The curtain came down. I -- Everybody went to dinner.
-I went backstage after she did not get any of the lines straight.
And I said, 'I'm sorry, Mary, it's all over.'
And she said, 'What do you mean?'
looking into the mirror.
I saw her dressing table for the first time.
And it was covered in pills and ironically, a photograph of her and Vivien Leigh, these two gorgeous women.
And of course, Vivien Leigh had a tragic death.
And Mary Ure was idolatrous of her and taking all these pills.
I said, 'It's just all over, dear.
And I will make an announcement that you're indisposed, and we're going on with the opening anyway.'
-And I heard, 'Will Miss Close please come down to costumes?'
It was shocking.
We didn't have time to walk through the whole show before we had to go on that night.
I also had to sing a little thing.
Hal had never heard me sing.
-Curtain time, I went out on the stage, and I told them that they're in for great treat, because the young lady who's making her Broadway debut tonight and who's just joined Actors' Equity three weeks ago, uh, is going to be a huge star.
And I said, 'And her name Glenn Close.'
And we went on with the opening.
-So I went from the fifth floor of the Helen Hayes, this little kind of garret dressing room to the star dressing room on stage level between a matinee and an evening show one Saturday.
So when you are a part of the process where the show must go on, and you go into the dressing room with all the empty picture hooks on the wall, you know that your chance is also somebody's tragedy or, you know -- And so, but that's a terrible part of -- of what we do.
And the greatest gift that Mary Ure gave me was that night at half hour, when I was going on for the first time in her costume, and it still smelled of her perfume, her very distinctive perfume, there was a knock on the door, and I was handed a note, and that note said that, 'It's a tradition in the English theater for --' It makes me -- still makes me cry -- 'for a leading lady to welcome the next one into the theater.
I welcome you.
Be strong and brave. Mary Ure.'
And in the midst of her, you know, which -- to have that generosity of spirit is what I have taken with me from that moment on.
-So it's a terrible, sad story.
And she was quite a swell, lovely lady.
-The next spring, she died.
Not only did I have that note, but when the run of -- of that play was over, I went back to my fifth floor dressing room and went back to being an understudy, which was ultimately, again, a great lesson.
-It was a miraculously adroit performance.
She was ready, and she was ready without rehearsal, too.
-That's what I have in my heart, you know, from my first job.
And that's why I think I always will consider theater my -- my home.
- Glenn Close is a hard act to follow, but that was really touching.
The grace of Mary Ure.
Justin, it's straight out of Broadway's 42nd street, the stars, the understudy, and life imitating art.
It has it all.
- That's right.
So many beautiful moments in theater, and we have 42nd street, another classic that we're going to hear more about in just a bit.
- And there is so much more to come.
Hi, everyone. I'm Stacy Sweet, joined by my co-star, and Broadway veteran, Justin Guarini.
And these stories are why theater and documentaries about the theater have a home right here on PBS.
- [Justin] That's right, and thank goodness they do because the thrill of Broadway may be on the stage, but its heart is in the stories behind the scenes.
- [Stacey] And the secrets, Justin.
[both laugh] - I loved all of them. And there are many more ahead, but right now we're taking this moment to ask you to make sure the legacy of great storytelling on this PBS station continues by going online right now and making a gift of support.
- That's right. It is so important.
You know, we've already heard so many incredible stories and secrets.
The one with Glenn Close is so perfectly bittersweet, and I think every actor dreams of that moment of discovery, when all the work and rehearsal finally pay off and you're finally recognized.
- And you step into the spotlight, isn't that the best?
[both laugh] That is the moment that dreams are made of.
And yes, I think it's something all of us can relate to.
- That's true.
And sometimes your gain is unfortunately someone else's loss.
And then of course, perhaps, especially in show business, your fortunes can change just like that on a dime.
When Glenn Close talks about going back to being an understudy after her big debut... Ah! It is such a humbling reminder to never take success for granted.
- Stay in the moment. - Mhm.
- Which is why we never take you for granted because you are an essential part of the success of this station.
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♪ It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood ♪ - We are the curious.
[soft emotional piano] - Wow!
- The adventurous.
- Oh! - Grr!
- Those venturing out for the first time.
[children screaming] [rocket blasting off] - And those who've never lost our sense of wonder.
- Are you seeing this?
[geese honking] - [Narrator] We are the hungry.
- The strong.
- [Muhammad Ali] I must be the greatest!
- [Narrator] The joyful.
- A happy little cloud.
- We believe there is always more we can uncover.
- More we can explore.
[intense orchestral music] - We believe - In the capacity for goodness - And the potential - For greatness.
- [John F. Kennedy] The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.
- Now, we've heard about the rich legacy of the theater in this special.
Before there was Ben Vereen, there was Bill Bojangles Robinson, and Jimmy Slide.
Before there was Dick Van Dyke, there was Ray Bolger.
Each generation informing and inspiring the next.
But now, it's your turn to support the legacy of the great arts, music and storytelling you find right here, on PBS.
This PBS station is your station.
It's here for you with once in a lifetime experiences for you and your family to enjoy.
Your support; it's what makes all of this possible.
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And now, let's dim the house lights and return to Broadway: Beyond the Golden Age.
-I loved the entrance, how we were just slowly, slowly, slowly showing up, showing up, showing up.
I love the way that show built.
♪ No one to walk with all by myself ♪ -♪ All by myself ♪ ♪ No one to walk with, but I'm happy on the shelf ♪ ♪ Ain't misbehavin' ♪ ♪ I'm savin' my love for you ♪ ♪ Nobody but you ♪ -And you and you, oh, and you!
-I loved it. And, you know, we just came out just very easy.
We didn't hit like, 'Bang, bang, bang, gang, gang, gang, gang, gang, gang, gang, gang!'
We didn't have to do that, you know?
Most musicals started like that.
The opening number -- [ Vocalizing ] We didn't have to do that. -And then Nell sings, ♪ I know for certain the one I love ♪ ♪ I'm through with flirtin', it's you that I'm thinkin' of ♪ ♪ Ain't misbehavin' ♪ ♪ I'm saving my love for you ♪ ♪ Like Jack Horner ♪ -♪ Like Jack Horner ♪ -♪ In the corner ♪ -♪ In the corner ♪ ♪ Don't go nowhere, what do I care? ♪ ♪ Your kisses are worth waiting for ♪ ♪ Believe me ♪ ♪ I don't stay out late ♪ -♪ I don't stay out late ♪ ♪ I don't care to go ♪ ♪ I'm home about eight, just me and my neighbor's radio ♪ ♪ I can't afford one, ain't misbehavin' ♪ ♪ I'm saving my love for you ♪ -I think that's it. [ Laughs ] -You know, it was just, like, easy. We eased on.
And people didn't know what was going to happen to them.
-♪ Ain't misbehavin' ♪ ♪ I'm savin' my love for you ♪ [ Smooches ] [ Laughs ] -♪ Right now, I'm starring in a big Broadway show ♪ ♪ But do you think the cab driver cares and knows? ♪ ♪ I can never get a cab in New York ♪ [ Laughs ] -They would pick up everybody who -- All the white people would come to see our plays, first.
-And constantly. Not sometime, all the time.
-Because when we got out of work, it would be after 10:00, and they would think we were all hookers or something.
-I'm thinking what -- You know, 'Don't I look good enough? What is it,' you know?
-I got on a bus. [ Chuckles ] I was a chorus kid. I wasn't the star like they were.
-Oh, no, it was bad.
Um, my dresser, Kiki, uh, Ursula Schrader, I'd say, 'Kiki, I've got to get home. Come to the corner with me, you know, Eighth Avenue, and hail me a taxi, please.'
-I mean, people don't realize that.
And you're like, 'Oh, no, that couldn't possibly be true.'
But it is very true.
You know, you'd have your friends who were white get a cab for you, and then you'd get in it.
-Sometimes I just, if I really just needed to get home, you know -- you're sick and you did the show, you just want to go home, you go down and you ask any, -- any, um, white person, 'Could you hail me a cab, please?'
[ Sighs ] -I was angry about it, but then after a while, I'm like, 'Look, I don't have time for that.
You know, I need a cab.'
-Next, two cabs later, boom, pull right over.
And he opened the back door, and I got in.
And the guy did not mind showing his displeasure that he had to take me.
-You can fight it and protest, and that's good, and you have to keep doing that, but sometimes you just don't feel like fighting.
-For one reason or another, I never dwelt on it as an indication of my inferiority.
-Well, it's the same thing it's always been.
You know, we know this is what it is and this is what exists, And you don't let it in to your core, because it would eat you up.
And there are people who unfortunately do and have, and it does eat you up.
-It's a part of American life. You learn it.
-But I -- You know, your night is not defined by the fact that you can't get a cab.
Your day is not that moment that the cab driver won't pick you up.
You did, after all, just get through having 1,200 people screaming for you.
So you couldn't take that as your whole tone of your existence.
You just couldn't do it.
And it goes back all the way through history.
You know, I mean, if we ever did that, we'd have never survived as people till now.
[ Applause ] -What happened was Fred said, 'It's going to close.
Gwen's got a feather in her throat or a sequin.
She has to have it operated on. It's going to close.'
I said, 'I'll do it.' And he went [Scoffs] I said, 'No. I will. I'd love to do it.'
He said no star had ever gone on for a star.
It was always an understudy.
-I was fast as far as picking up steps, I was really good and really fast at it.
That's why I was a good assistant.
Liza was faster than me.
I could do it once or twice, and she would basically have it.
-Week, five days, whatever it was, it was incredible!
-I went, 'How can you do that?'
-We were all amazed at it.
-I said, 'Well, why do we have to advertise it at all?
We don't, do we?'
-She was never on the marquee.
She, uh -- She was never in the program.
-There are no posters of Liza in -- in 'Chicago' that I know of.
-And Fred said, 'I think what should happen each night that she's in it is the lights go down, and you hear a voice say...' -The stage manager would announce, 'Tonight, the role of a Roxie Hart, usually played by Gwen Verdon --' -And you heard everybody go, 'Aw!'
-'Will be played by Liza Minnelli.'
-The crowd would go -- The house would go crazy.
-And the show started.
[ Applause ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Applause ] -She not only learned it in very few days, but she was terrific in the show, and she saved it.
-♪ In fifty years or so ♪ ♪ It's gonna change, you know ♪ ♪ But, oh, it's heaven ♪ ♪ Nowadays ♪ ♪♪♪ [ Applause ] -I'm sorry, Mr. Marsh. Show business isn't for me.
I'm going back to Allentown.
-What was that word, you just said?
I'm offering you a chance to star in the biggest musical Broadway's seen in 20 years, and you say Allentown?
Now, listen, Sawyer, and listen good.
Even if you don't give a damn about me, think of all those kids you'll be throwing out of work if you don't do this.
Think of the songs that will wither and die if you don't get up there and sing them.
Think of the costumes that will never be seen, the scenery never seen, the orchestrations never heard.
Think of our show and the thrill and pleasure it could give to millions.
Think of musical comedy, the most glorious words in the English language.
[ Applause ] -The audience had been fabulous, and you could feel the electricity.
-Standing ovation, standing ovation, standing ovation, bravos.
[ Applause ] -We're bowing. We're bowing.
Curtain went up at least 12 times.
-15 curtain calls, this euphoric acceptance by the audience, standing ovation, screaming, yelling.
-Stage right, David Merrick comes out, and he's like this.
He was always very dour.
-With his notorious chin in his hand.
-He always looked like he was unhappy, but I knew David enough to know that there was something else going on.
-And everybody applauded when they see -- saw him.
-He, um, very quietly said, um, 'This is a very tragic moment for me,' and everybody laughed.
-Because what's tragic about 15 curtain calls?
And then he held up his hands to quieten everybody.
-And he said... -'I have some terrible news.'
-And everybody applauded.
They thought this was going to turn into a game.
-When he said about it being tragic and the audience laughed, I knew what he was going to say next.
-He said, 'Gower Champion died this afternoon.
-'Gower Champion died this afternoon.'
-'Gower Champion died this afternoon.'
-And everybody just went -- -And we all gasp.
-I'm sorry to have to report that around noon today, Gower Champion died.
-Oh. [ All gasping, murmuring ] -Oh, God.
-The gasp from the audience almost took my breath away.
Just -- [ Inhales deeply ] -The audience stopped, we stopped, and we're all standing there frozen on the stage.
-No one knew what to do.
-The whole audience just fell into their seats.
-Everybody was in shock.
-They sat there staring at us.
And we stood there in our -- in our own space feeling what we were feeling.
-I mean, the kids in the chorus, just [Gasps] the tears streaming down their young faces.
-The audience was full of show business people -- Josh Logan, Bob Fosse.
Uh, my husband's date that night was Ethel Merman.
-And I just remember locking eyes with David as he walked across the stage to embrace me.
-And then Jerry Orbach, bless his heart -- I guess we would have all stood there forever -- He stepped forward.
And in the quiet of that room, he said the line he says at the end of Act I.
-'Curtain, bring it in,' and took over the theater and got everybody out.
-Curtain, bring it in!
[ Applause ] -And the curtain came slowly down and hit with a thud.
And Ethel Merman turned to Tom and said, 'Well, if you got to go, that's a way to go.'
And I thought that really just kind of wrapped it up.
♪♪♪ -♪ Come along ♪ ♪ Come on along and listen to ♪ ♪ The lullaby of Broadway ♪ ♪ The hidee hi and whoop-di-doo ♪ ♪ The lullaby of Broadway ♪ ♪ The band begins to go to town ♪ ♪ And ev'ryone goes crazy ♪ ♪ You rock-a-bye your baby 'round ♪ ♪ And sleep all day ♪ -♪ Listen to the lullaby of ♪ -♪ Old ♪ ♪ Broadway ♪ -The sudden passing of Gower Champion marked the beginning of the end of another golden age.
A few years later, Michael Bennett and Bob Fosse would die within a few months of each other, effectively ending an era on Broadway.
Tragically, AIDS would arrive in the early '80s, decimating an entire generation of creative artists of every stripe and taking a terrible toll on an already struggling Broadway.
Before Michael Bennett's passing, he threw a party to end all parties when his baby, 'A Chorus Line,' became the longest-running show in history.
And like Gower Champion on the day of the '42nd Street' premiere, this was a dramatic final curtain to a show-stopping life.
-To be part of that gala, when 'A Chorus Line' broke the record and became the longest-running show on Broadway, uh, September 29, 1983, had to be the most thrilling night for me ever in the theater.
-All the companies came back and had that wonderful -- Michael created a wonderful event, theatrical event.
-Broadway is gearing up for a happening.
On Thursday, the musical 'A Chorus Line' becomes the longest-running show in Broadway history.
-Michael basically brought back anybody who had ever danced in any of his official companies.
-They said, 'It's going to be fabulous, and we're flying in all these companies from all over the world and others --' We knew that they were going to be a lot of people there.
-There was a welcoming party down at 890 for everybody that was coming in to do it.
So he welcomed everybody. -'A Chorus Line' director Michael Bennett kicked off a week-long tribute to his musical.
He invited all the original cast members, as well as the casts from the national and the international 'Chorus Line' companies to a big New York party.
But Bennett promises to stage an even bigger event Thursday.
That is when all the cast members will take part in a performance of the musical, which will be the 3,389th time the curtain will rise on the award-winning musical 'A Chorus Line.'
-And then Monday morning we began. He gave a speech, and the original company was there.
And they were telling us how the week was going to go, how those next three, four days were going to go.
-I mean, it was hard work.
We had a week -- think a week of rehearsal.
-They rehearsed the companies individually to remind them of the steps.
-Okay! Fall in! We're starting!
-Michael came in, and, you know, I started drilling them, and he goes, 'Oh, my God.'
'Cause I had just done a company in Germany.
And he said, 'Oh, is that how they do it in Germany?'
And I said, 'Please leave, Michael. Go! Out!'
And he went, 'Okay, Miss Wong.'
-Okay. Baayork, you ready?
-We're looking for the foreign company.
[ Laughter ] -Michael loved us.
He wanted to be around us, you know, but at that moment, we really needed to concentrate on doing the finale.
-It was our job to make sure everybody relearned the show.
And then Michael had staged all the switching of casts and the adjustments that would happen with that.
-You know, Michael was doing all this Greek chorus stuff.
He wanted five or six Vals to share -- ass that night.
-There were, uh, seven casts.
[ Applause ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Cheers and applause ] ♪♪♪ -Five Pauls.
-There were 11 Pauls.
I mean, Michael -- It was so brilliant what he did.
He topped himself.
-Finally, I went down to the principal's office and said, 'I'm a homosexual.'
-Well, it was a Catholic high school at around 1962, and at the age of 15, you just didn't say that.
-He said, 'Would you like to see a psychologist?'
-Okay, bring 'em in.
♪♪♪ [ Cheers and applause ] ♪♪♪ -Got very emotional during the Paul monologue.
You know, made me really miss Nicholas.
and, uh, that whole group.
There's a whole group of young, wonderful men who are gone, um, and that I had spent such great times with and who were so talented and funny and, you know -- and they're not with us anymore.
And it got me very emotional.
-Oh, it was very emotional.
It was family, friends, everybody.
Everybody knew everybody there.
-And it was like a love fest.
We all really loved each other.
It was so wonderful that, after all those years, that we still had that bond.
In fact, it was probably stronger than ever before.
-It was too much for me.
I cried. I cried. I couldn't stop crying.
It was just so wonderful to see everybody again, you know.
♪♪♪ -Kiss the day... But I remember it was very emotional.
♪♪♪ [ Inhales shakily ] So I started to speak, and I started to cry and cry, and I said, 'It's okay. It's okay.
Just let me cry. I got to get it out.
This is nothing. These tears mean nothing.
just let me get it out.' [ Chuckles ] ♪ What I did for love ♪ This was such a love experience.
♪ Look, my eyes are dry ♪ [ Laughter, applause ] ♪ The gift was ours to borrow ♪ -Because we were so happy that, 'A,' we had been a part of this wonderful show, 'B,' that it was becoming the longest-running, and that Michael was still, you know, there for us.
-All right. Let's take a five. [ Speaks indistinctly ] [ Applause ] -It was hard, but it was just kind of back where Michael had been before in terms of the generosity and the -- and the joy.
-And you know what? I'm very glad we're all going to be working together.
-And he was very careful with Donna.
I mean, they had been divorced by then, and he was very civil to her and protective, and, um -- and gave a gift to the original company by the way he placed us in the -- in that evening.
-We had a-a run-through, an invited dress so we can invite all our friends and they all came that afternoon, and it was just unbelievable.
Nobody thought it would get the response that it did.
-The Broadway company that was playing at that time opened the show.
-He had -- He had a sign up at the top, you know, showing what company it was.
-And we did the whole opening up to the point where you bring the résumé up to your face.
-There's a blackout where people go to get their pictures.
They go to get them, and then there's this stalking, straight forward down to the audience in a line right at the audience that goes to a moment of black.
-And what happened was, in a blackout, we left. The original company came.
-And when the lights come up, there are 8x10s in front of our faces.
-He'd had them take their places like in this just like two -- like a few bars of music.
But then when photos went up, it was Kelly Bishop, Donna McKechnie, Baayork Lee, all the, you know, these original cast members.
It was -- Like, the audience went [Screams] -And they were standing behind their own pictures.
-So of course then that would flash 'The original company.'
[ Cheers and applause ] -Place went crazy.
-There's a beat. There's a pulse that goes under this.
It goes bum.
-You heard this chord being hit, this incessant thing.
And normally, I would play that chord maybe six or eight times.
-I think that the record was 17, which is a long time.
-And I was looking at the orchestra after about 25 of them.
I mean, we knew we had to do it.
We could hear the audience out there going crazy.
But on that record-breaking performance that night, I played that chord 33 times.
-My memory, which can be faulty, was it was 36.
We were like -- I mean, besides we were revved that we were excited and everything, but just standing there and getting all of that energy coming from the audience, I remember just standing there. And I was okay in the beginning, and then pretty soon, my hands started shaking.
Like, you couldn't stand still because this energy that was coming from the audience while this beat goes on.
-Screaming, screaming, screaming.
In the very end of the finale, when they're doing the final kicks, there were like 150 people just on the stage.
-They combined the Booth Theatre and the Shubert Theatre.
They opened up the -- the walls downstairs.
They put stanchions and these pillars to hold up the stage.
-So that it could take the weight.
-And we couldn't fit everybody on the stage, so there were people down the aisles and people in the aisles up in the balcony and people in the back of the house.
That's how everyone was able to dance the finale.
After it was over, Tom Porter, the stage manager, asked us all to come into the house quickly because Michael and Bobby, they would have some notes.
So we did run into the house, and, um, Michael was just beaming.
He said, 'This is what I do. I did this for you.
This is what -- Enjoy it. This is what it's all about.'
-His first line is, 'I did this for us.'
-I did this for us.
I mean it. [ Cheers and applause ] -And you see what that -- And then -- And then his last line was, 'I love you.'
-So I'm going to come up, and then I'm going to do my famous thank you and good night, after I sing a chorus of 'How Do You Say Goodbye?'
[ Laughter ] Okay. I love you.
[ Applause ] -We applauded him for 10 minutes.
[ Laughs ] -It was amazing.
-It was like we were sharing a great moment of history together.
-So brilliant. He topped himself.
I mean, who would have ever thought that 'A Chorus Line' could get any better?
Oh, my God.
You can feel the love, the dedication, the sacrifice.
These Broadway stars really gave it their all.
And to have the opportunity to relive it with them and with all of you in such an intimate way, that's really an honor.
- Yes, it is.
There's so many great moments in Broadway history and so many stories I've never even heard, from heartbreaking experiences to unforgettable celebrations.
- [Stacey] And it's really about the celebrations.
Every single moment of this special is a celebration of life, of art, of theater, and of those amazing behind the scenes moments you just can't find anywhere else.
And hearing these stories, you know what?
It's pretty inspirational.
- [Justin] Yes, it is.
I'm Justin Guarini joining you along with Stacey Sweet for great performances, Broadway Beyond The Golden Age.
And I love the insight that we're getting into this remarkable time on Broadway.
And make sure you stay tuned because we are about to hear some behind the scenes stories about this film from one of the producers in just a moment.
But right now we're asking you to visit pbs.org/donate to show your support for the incredible storytelling you find here on your PBS station.
- And coming up, I have the honor of speaking with Richard Eric Weigle.
He's one of the producers of Broadway Beyond The Golden Age.
And we'll all get to hear about what it took to get this film in front of an audience, very dramatic.
But first it's important to make your contribution right now.
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- How dare you, William?
- [Stacey] Masterpiece. All your favorites when and where you want them - Oh my God!
- [Stacey] Go online to make a qualifying contributions and away you go.
We are delighted to have with us, one of the producers of Broadway beyond the golden age, Richard Eric Weigel.
Richard, thank you so much for joining us.
- Oh, it's my pleasure, Stacey.
You know, this film is so special to watch, intimate stories, behind the scenes secrets.
Why does this film resonate so much with audiences and why was it so important for you and Rick to bring it to life?
- Well, first of all, I think people are really starved for Broadway.
They're starved for live theater.
Well, the next best thing is this documentary, which tells the history of Broadway and it's Rick McKay, who was a genius.
If he hadn't gotten these interviews, all of these stories would be lost forever.
And I think that's why it's so compelling.
- [Stace] Elaine Stritch, Ben Vareen, Carol Burnett, Robert Redford, Dick Van Dyke, the list goes on and on.
How did this happen, and how did everyone say yes?
- Well, that's a very interesting question.
When Rick was doing the first film, Broadway: The Golden Age, one of the stars he interviewed was Bea Arthur.
You know, these stars don't know, is this ever going to air?
Who are these people who are making this bill?
Well, by the time the interview was over, she was so impressed with Rick that she said, 'Go in the kitchen and get my address book.'
He got it.
She said, copy down any name you want.
And once you get people such as Eva Marie Saint, or Julie Harris, or Kim hunter, everyone wants to do it.
- Why do you think PBS is the perfect home for this wonderful film?
- Well, I think PBS is the gold standard for arts on television.
And I remember a production of The Seagull, with the Frank Langella and Blythe Danner.
And it's so interesting because Frank Langella is in our documentary 45 years later.
Another milestone I remember watching was The Colored Museum, in 1990 and among the cast members is Loretta Devine and she is also in our documentary.
So it's kind of full circle, but I think people look to PBS for anything that is quality, especially relating to the arts and theater.
- Well, we were all in love with this project and we're so glad it found its home right here on PBS.
Thank you so much for being with us.
- Thank you for having me.
- This is it, This is your moment to shine, swing on by pbs.org/donate to help continue the tradition of tremendous performing arts and cultural programs on your PBS station.
- The history of a cultural phenomenon like Broadway musical theater is so important to document.
Broadway is a national treasure and brings so many of us together.
- Just like this PBS station.
It's a place that unites people from different backgrounds, people with different tastes in music, theater, and dance.
- If you've already made your all important contribution to this PBS station, we want to say, thank you so much.
We really appreciate it.
And if you haven't now is the time.
-This is my friend... -Oh, I love you, my dear. -...who understands more about Broadway than almost anybody.
♪♪♪ -♪ You can like the life you're living ♪ ♪ You can live the life you like ♪ ♪ You can even marry Harry ♪ ♪ But mess around with Ike ♪ ♪ And that's good, isn't it? Grand, isn't it? ♪ ♪ Great, isn't it? Swell, isn't it? ♪ ♪ Fun, isn't it? ♪ ♪ But nothing stays ♪ ♪ In fifty years or so ♪ ♪ It's gonna change, you know ♪ ♪ But, oh, it's heaven ♪ ♪ Nowadays ♪ ♪♪♪ [ Cheers and applause ] ♪♪♪