As thankful as I am to see any footage of Broadway performers released, the Broadway Lost Treasures series is really -- it must be said -- a botched opportunity. There is little rhyme or reason in how the clips are chosen and assembled. The performances are good, bad and everything in between, and this latest installment has one of the weakest selections yet.
First, I wish that the lip-synched numbers would just be omitted altogether -- to me, they don't qualify as a performance. So don't get your hopes up for Gwen Verdon's "Whatever Lola Wants" (unless you only care about the dancing) or Angela Lansbury's "Everything's Coming Up Roses." They both fall in this category.
Now, let's move on to the highlights of this DVD:
The best segments are those that give glimpses of golden-age musicals not captured on film and unlikely to appear on stage again.
It's great to see Jerry Orbach doing a song from Burt Bacharach's "Promises, Promises." Although it's a bad night vocally for him, the energy is there. The segment from "The Happy Time" is definitely one of the disc's highlights, with Robert Goulet attractive and charming. And the number from the largely forgotten "How Now, Dow Jones" is very enjoyable too.
In addition, three titans of Broadway's peak years are captured -- well after their own peaks, but better late than never.
Ethel Merman is absolutely wonderful in a truncated medley -- amazingly, about 42 years after her stage debut. In the bit from "Call Me Madam," Merman essentially uses her co-star, Larry Blyden, as a stage prop, to hilarious effect. And the "Gypsy" number is both electrifying and moving. That's Broadway, folks, with a capital M. The crime is that the medley was very crudely cut for this DVD -- according to Broadway expert Ken Mandelbaum, three songs were removed. That's close to unforgivable.
Alfred Drake, in a number from "Kiss Me Kate," is also quite good, although the last note is a little rough.
And Julie Andrews is beautiful and luminous, if a bit cautious vocally, in her medley from "My Fair Lady" and "Camelot."
Also worthwhile are Chita Rivera, exhibiting tremendous career-comeback talent in "Kiss of the Spider Woman," and Zero Mostel mugging his way (as usual) through "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum."
With a few exceptions, the rest of the disc is expendable. But buy it for the above alone. Hopefully, it will encourage others with rights to historical footage of Broadway performers to release DVDs of their own treasures (e.g., more from the Ed Sullivan show) and do a better job of it.