When you think of Broadway don’t you think of musicals? In this 90-minute documentary, Michael Kantor asks us what would the Broadway musical be like without the influence of Jews? “Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy” is a fascinating mix of rarely seen clips of Broadway musicals–old and new, mixed with archival materials and interviews with the descendants of some of the people who helped create this American tradition. This documentary first aired on 2 January 2013 and this is your second chance to see it today. Check local listings, but the full episode of “Great Performances” is available online.

If you love musicals, this is a must-see. Some people know Hugh Jackman as an X-Men Wolverine, but others know him as a musical star. There’s a clip of him performing as Curley in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Oklahoma!”

But Kantor sets the tone by starting us out with David Hyde Pierce, informally dressed and off-stage, singing a song from the Monty Python-based musical “Spamalot.”  For those of you who aren’t familiar with that insanely hilarious musical comedy, it was “lovingly ripped off from” the 1975 “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”  The 2004 musical won three Tony Awards (Best musical, Best featured actress and Best direction) out of 14 nominations.Tim Curry was King Arthur and Hank Azaria was Sir Lancelot.

Pierce was Sir Robin in the original Broadway cast of “Spamalot,” and for this documentary he’s dressed informally and with only a piano player, he’s singing the song “You Won’t Succeed (On Broadway)?  The song comes from the second act and it’s pokes fun at the long history of Jewish contributions.

ARTHUR:
Have you heard of this “Broadway?”

ROBIN:
Yes sire…and we don’t stand a chance there.

ARTHUR:
Why not?

ROBIN:
Because…Broadway is a very special place,
filled with very special people,
people who can sing and dance, often at the same time!
They are a different people, a multi-talented people,
a people…who need people…and who are, in many ways, the
luckiest people in…the world. I’m sorry sire, but we don’t stand a chance.

ARTHUR:
But why?

ROBIN:
Well…let me put it like this.

In any great adventure,
that you don’t want to lose,
victory depends upon the people that you choose.
So, listen, Arthur darling, closely to this news:
We won’t succeed on Broadway,
If you don’t have any Jews.

You may have the finest sets,
Fill the stage with Penthouse pets,
You may have the loveliest costumes and best shoes.
You my dance and you may sing,
But I’m sorry, Arthur king,
You’ll hear no cheers,
Just lots and lots of boos.

ENSEMBLE:
Boo.

ROBIN:
You may have have butch men by the score
Whom the audience adore,
You may even have some animals from zoos,
Though you’ve Poles and Krauts instead,
You may have unleavened bread,
But I tell you, you are dead,
If you don’t have any Jews.

They won’t care if it’s witty,
or everything looks pretty,
They’ll simply say it’s shitty and refuse.
Nobody will go, sir,
If it’s not kosher then no show, sir,
Even Goyem won’t be dim enough to choose!
Put on shows that make men stare,
With lots of girls in underwear,
You may even have the finest of reviews.

CRITIC:
You’re doing great!

ROBIN:
The audience won’t care, sir,
As long as you don’t dare, sir,
To open up on Broadway
If you don’t have any Jews.

You may have dramatic lighting,
Or lots of horrid fighting,
You may even have some white men sing the blues!
Your knights might be nice boys,
But sadly we’re all goys,
And that noise that you call singing you must lose.

So, despite your pretty lights,
and naughty girls in nasty tights,
and the most impressive scenery you use…
You may have dancing mana-mano,
You may bring on a piano,
But they will not give a damn-o
If you don’t have any Jews!

You may fill your play with gays,
Have Nigerian girls in stays,

GIRLS:
You may even have some schizas making stews!

ROBIN:
You haven’t got a clue,
If you don’t have a Jew,
All of your investments you are going to lose!

There’s a very small percentile,
Who enjoys a dancing gentile,
I’m sad to be the one with this bad news!
But never mind your swordplay,
You just won’t succeed on Broadway,
You just won’t succeed on Broadway,
If you don’t have any Jews!

Arthur, can you hear me?

To get along on Broadway,
To sing a song on Broadway,
To hit the top on Broadway and not lose,
I tell you, Arthur king,
There is one essential thing…
There simply must be, simply must be Jews.

There simply must be,
Arthur trust me,
Simply must be Jews.

Our narrator is Joel Grey who managed to win and Oscar and a Tony for the same role (in “Cabaret”).  Consider Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein and their influence on Broadway. Besides stars, composers and lyricists (and their children or other relatives), Kantor consults with researchers and music critics.

Many of the composers wrote melodies inspired by Jewish traditions such as prayers (“the Jewish wail”). What brought Jewish musicians to the United States? Poverty, the chance for transformation and even, the election of Adolph Hitler to chancellor in Germany. And as a way of historic revenge, Mel Brookes talks about the ultimate victory is making Hitler look foolish as in his movie that became a musical, “The Producers.”

The clips of Nathan Lane, Barbra Streisand, Hugh Jackman, Matthew Broderick, Ethel Merman and more are priceless. Don’t miss the chance to watch this again and again. Through music, the Jewish legacy isn’t even seen as separate. It’s a part of American theater and American movie history.

Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy” is available to stream online on PBS v ideo.

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