A pair of new releases to remind us that Broadway WILL go on with the show.
When I had first started planning this piece, my intention was to make it a sort of welcome back to Broadway, saluting the many shows and the people behind them as they welcome back the public after too long of an absence. Recent developments, however, have made that rather impossible. The emergence of the Omicron variant has caused numerous shows, including “Jagged Little Pill,” “Hamilton,” “Waitress” and “Harry Potter” to either cancel performances or permanently shut down due to members of cast, crew and staff testing positive for Covid. It’s yet another blow to an industry which carries the livelihood of so many and gives immeasurable amounts of joy to those who flock to it. Seeing it all play out on the news, I decided that this piece should take on a different face, one which instead celebrates Broadway as an unstoppable force that not only forges ahead in the face of adversity, but which continues to reinvent itself with each passing decade.
So while it isn’t the safest to go out to the theatre right now, here are some home video options new to DVD and Blu-ray that manage to keep the spirit of Broadway alive and well and in their own very different ways, showing the power and the perseverance of the great white way.
Lullaby of Broadway
Doris Day was in the bloom of her movie star glow when she starred in this tale that celebrates the romantic side of Broadway. Traveling singer Melinda Howard (Doris Day) comes to New York City to visit her mother Jessica (Gladys George), whom she believes is a Broadway sensation. The truth is that her mother is a down-on-her-luck alcoholic who now performs in dive bars. Desperate to help, out-of-work actors Lefty (Billy De Wolf) and Gloria (Anne Triola), along with a kind millionaire named Mr. Hubbell (S.Z. Sackall) devise a plan to keep her from finding out the truth. Along the way however, name meets a handsome Broadway entertainer named Tom (Gene Nelson) whom she finds she can only resist for so long.
The minute anyone looks at this movie’s title and sees its star beaming back at them with her million dollar smile, they get a firm idea of what kind of an experience Lullaby of Broadway will be. They’re not too far off to be honest. The movie is a sweet piece of early 50s fluff that offers up bits of romantic comedy, farce and the sort of technicolor musical which made the era golden. In the middle of it all is a winning Day in a quintessential role as a girl with a twinkle in her eye who believes the world is her oyster. Throughout all the sweetness however, the movie offers up an heartfelt ode to Broadway, specifically to the people who dedicate their lives to it. Lullaby of Broadway speaks to the undying nature of performers who won’t stop being performers, no matter what happens to them. Whether they are forced to become domestics while waiting for their next big break or fall prey to their own demons, the camaraderie and iron will of the community is the movie’s truest element. This may be a Broadway-set fairy tale with Doris at its center, but it’s one with an undeniable respect and admiration for the world it’s set in.
The history of Broadway is relived in one of the most comprehensive and enjoyable documentaries about the New York stage. Notable names, including Christine Baranski, George C. Wolfe, Hugh Jackman and Ian McKellan recount their own Broadway experiences as Oscar-nominated filmmaker Oren Jacoby looks at the many milestones which have helped shape one of the most indelible parts of New York City. From its down times in the early 1970s, to the revolutionary shows responsible for its continued resurgence, to a destination for millions of people longing for the kind of escape only the stage can provide, On Broadway carefully charts the great white way’s storied past and future.
From the producers of RBG, this documentary takes place in a decidedly post-Lullaby of Broadway world as it opens up on a pre-pandemic Broadway debut of a new show. Almost immediately the film takes us back to the days of hell hole New York when the theatre industry was barely surviving. Priceless vintage footage chronicles darkened theaters and the horrors of Times Square before showing how the industry was rebuilt through the work of artists (such as Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber) and controversial business mergers. Throughout it all, it’s impressive roster of commentators talk about the importance and vitality of Broadway, which only flourished even in the darkest of times. Delighting theatre and history buffs alike, Jacoby offers up a stellar chronicle of Broadway’s ups and downs, honing in on what makes this world as romanticized and beloved as it continues to be. On Broadway ends with a postscript addressing the pandemic and short documentary filmed at the height of lockdown with additional interviews from Baranski and others as they further drive home the unwavering spirit of this extraordinary world.
Apart from one being a lavish Doris Day musical and the other being a talking head documentary, On Broadway and Lullaby of Broadway both contain the kind of fire and heart within their stories and characters that helps define the stage world. The magic, the allure, the rare beauty that only Broadway can conjure up which has given so much to both artists and those who are enlivened and inspired by great art is given its proper due thorough these two great titles. The eras and the obstacles which Broadway has faced since its beginnings have been many and are surely far from over. Yet as both films show, the stage, as well as the people who bring it to life, will surely endure.
Lullaby of Broadway is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Archive. On Broadway is now available on DVD from Kino Lorber.