Thom Geier
October 29, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Broadway: The American Musical

Current Status
In Season

We gave it a B+

Why should we give our regards to Broadway: The American Musical? Let’s start with Doris Eaton Travis, a veteran of The Ziegfeld Follies of 1919, singing and, yes, hoofing on Follies’ old stage (now housing The Lion King). She fairly embodies the spirit of this brisk but thoughtful history of a unique homegrown art form. Early chapters boast vintage clips of hammy Fanny Brice, applause-hungry George M. Cohan, and soulful African-American singer Ethel Waters — great performers all, and reminders of how Broadway reflected America’s early-20th-century melting pot and influenced society’s views on hot-button issues like racism, unions, and AIDS. One quibble: Later segments feel rushed, leaning heavily on shows (like current hit Wicked) whose creators get face time.

EXTRAS Scores of interviews, including Carol Channing on falling off the stage and Stephen Sondheim recounting how he wanted to major in math. Plus, a clip of late Rent composer Jonathan Larson at the piano singing a Sondheim parody.

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