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Tue, 19 Oct 2004

The Best of Broadway: The American Musical
As much as PBS disappoints me with its current events coverage, attempting to dispell the aura of a nonexistent liberal bias with the bend-over-backwards balance of The News Hour and the conservative excesses (in both tone and volume) of people like John McLaughlin, I do appreciate their attempts at cultural programming. Where else, for example, is a modern audience going to be exposed to as wide a range of music? MTV?

A PBS series on the history of musicals is a natural for the network, especially whenever pledge drive time rolls around. It's educational, colorful and entertaining. And for those of us who love the simplicity and unreality of a live stage performance in this world of CGI, it's a reminder that storytelling can be effective and evocative even when it isn't accompanied by technological excess.

Most of the musicals represented on this album are classics, the performances dating back to the shows' earliest presentations. Al Jolson sings Swanee from 1920; Paul Robeson does Ol' Man River in 1932. These are the definition of classics, which makes the inclusion of Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenoweth's Defying Gravity from the regrettable Wicked an amusing contrast.

I love musicals. I especially love modern musicals; they speak to me in a way the classics can't quite manage. But they're well worth learning about, both to know where we came from and because a great performance is great forever.

The Best of Broadway
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