News – Oldest

“Broadway: The Golden Age” will be widely rebroadcast throughout the coming year, including many new cities and replays for June 2006 Pledge Drive on PBS. For now, here are some new add-on dates for April/May added by popular demand. Check back often for new dates!

Below are the dates and times that “Broadway: The Golden Age” will be playing around the US during the March Pledge Month on PBS. Check back often as new cities are coming in every day. And please call your local PBS station if you do not see your town, as almost all cities have access to the film for no charge and it is up to them to show it. Equally important is to call WHEN you see the show (whether you choose to pledge or not) and let them know how much you loved “Broadway: The Golden Age” and how much you want the sequels to come to your local PBS as well – so you can be sure they arrive soon! Thank you, Rick McKay, Director of “Broadway: The Golden Age

Legends shine for one last curtain call on Broadway

Date: 04/04/2005
Publication: The Age
Section: Metro

Turning the spotlight the other way is illuminating, writes Tim Hunter.

THERE’S been countless films made about Broadway in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s – the thrill of the spotlights, the greasepaint, the roar of the crowds, all of that. But as obvious an idea for a film as it may seem, a documentary has never been made about Broadway. Until now.

US Broadway lover and filmmaker Rick McKay has spent six years interviewing more than 140 Broadway stars, ranging from Carol Channing to Shirley Maclaine, Farley Granger and Uta Hagen. Some of them have since died, making the final product, Broadway: The Golden Age, By The Legends Who Were There, all the more important.

It started as a modestly short program for television, but McKay found it hard to sell the idea. “When I brought it to PBS, they said, ‘No one’s interested in old people; you’ve got to put young people in the cast’,” he explains. “About two days later, Gwen Verdon, Bob Fosse’s wife, died, and her last interview was in my film. And I thought, ‘It’s becoming a responsibility for me to do these interviews, because these people who are older will never get a chance to tell their story again’. I was in the right place right time.”

McKay was more than lucky on a number of occasions with the interviewees he managed to secure, and collected many anecdotes about these interviews. “When I finished the interview with Angela Lansbury, she said, ‘If I’d seen this in a theatre and I hadn’t been included, it would have broken my heart’.

“I told her I couldn’t have made the film without her, and she said, ‘I’m ashamed of myself, I have to apologise, I turned this film down once’. I said, ‘No, Ms Lansbury, you turned it down four times’.”

What comes out loud and clear through the film is the passion and love that everyone had for the early years of Broadway.

“There are two audiences: the older audience who nod their heads all the way through; and the young one who shake their heads and their jaws drop. If this film lights a fire under their ass and they want to work in theatre, and do something important, then that’s great!”

So, what is it about Broadway that lights McKay’s fire? “When you walk into a theatre, you don’t have any idea of what’s going to happen. It may be a great audience or a bad audience, and that’s going to affect the performance that night. It’s the interactive nature of theatre that I like, and as an audience member, I’m responsible.”

Broadway: The Golden Age

By Tom Ryan
THE SUNDAY AGE – April 3, 2005

Broadway: the Golden Age
***1/2 (out of four)
(PG, 111 minutes)
At the Nova from Thursday

It would be a mistake to describe Rick McKay, the director, writer, cinematographer, editor, producer and narrator of Broadway: The Golden Age, as a one-man band. The credits at the end make this clear (or at least the ones that had rolled before the wretched projectionist at the preview switched them off). Nevertheless, five years in the making, the film is clearly McKay’s baby, his labour of love.

With a minimal budget, several sequences of marvellous archival footage and a digital camera, he’s been able to recapture something of the world of Broadway theatre between the 1940s and the 1960s. The quality of the image isn’t perfect (the projectionist can’t be held responsible this time), but it doesn’t matter. What’s important are the fascinating interviews with those who remember what it was like and the footage of some of the greats who walked the stages of a bygone era.

A star-studded parade passes by, giving testimony to the passion and the pain: Angela Lansbury looking back at her pursuit of the role in Mame; Julie Harris tearfully remembering first seeing black actress Ethel Waters in Mamba’s Daughters (“It changed my life”); John Raitt explaining how “Figaro, Figaro, Figaro” laid the foundations for Carousel’s Soliloquy (My Boy Bill); Gwen Verdon reflecting on her work with Bob Fosse.

McKay’s film isn’t exactly a history. Nor is it an examination of the changing face of theatre over the years. Rather, it’s an unqualified celebration of what Broadway used to be like and a eulogy to its passing, which it suggests happened somewhere around the time of Hair and Oh, Calcutta!

By “Broadway”, it means not just the plays and the performances, but the opening nights and the clubbing after the curtain comes down – at Sardi’s in the ’40s and ’50s and Downey’s in the ’50s and ’60s – the places where the actors used to hang out during the day, such as Ray’s Drugstore and Walgreen’s (forget “the drugstore thing”, says Elaine Stritch, explaining that she always headed straight for the “saloon”). Curiously, there’s nothing about the theatres themselves, aside from occasional shots of facades and marquees.

The result is an impression, a glimpse of a culture provided by those who were there. The old footage of places like Times Square adds colour, but it’s in the excitement the interviewees bring to their recall that Broadway really comes alive. McKay uses chapter headings (“The journey begins”, “Looking for Lancelot”) to try to impose a kind of organisation on the material. But since he’s not really doing anything more than reminiscing, they’re all but useless.

Still, reminiscence can be very revealing and a genuine sense of community emerges from what his subjects have to say. There are anecdotes galore, including some great ones from Carol Burnett, Elizabeth Ashley, Shirley MacLaine and Robert Goulet. And a special highlight is the general assent in response to McKay’s question about the greatest performance they’ve ever seen: Laurette Taylor in The Glass Menagerie.

The actress’s name might not be familiar, perhaps because she never worked in film, although McKay has come up with a 1938 screen test she did (in vain) for David O. Selznick. But her peers remember her. “She changed acting . . . I think we’ve all been striving to be her, one way or the other,” says Ben Gazzara. “Mesmerising.” (Gena Rowlands). “The greatest performance I’ve ever seen.” (Patricia Neal). “I can’t get it out of my head.” (Maureen Stapleton).

Whatever else it does, Broadway pays homage to the art of the theatre, to the immediacy of the performances, to the way “you have to do it there, on the spot”. Frank Langella speaks for everyone in the film when he says, “You’re a living, breathing thing. And you’re irreplaceable.”

Back story
One of the major hurdles Rick McKay faced in making Broadway: The Golden Age was gaining access to the people he wanted to interview. “I learned quickly that going through agents didn’t work,” he says. “I had to find a way to get to them directly.” In some cases, this was made possible by acquiring the right contacts, actors such as Kaye Ballard and Angela Lansbury using their personal address books to help him out once they’d been convinced of his credentials. Persistence helped too, Stephen Sondheim agreeing to become involved only after McKay contrived a meeting at a party then flooded the composer with follow-up letters. Marlon Brando declined the invitation to appear, but agreed to be interviewed over the phone. However, others McKay wanted he never managed to contact, most shielded by their agents: Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Julie Andrews, Bernadette Peters, Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand. “Since not one of the stars in the film got paid,” McKay says with some bitterness, “most agents treated me as 10 per cent of a major waste of time for them”. Perhaps he’s had more luck with the forthcoming Broadway: The Next Generation, due for release this year in the US.