Run time: 111 mins
In Theaters: Tuesday 1st April 2003
Distributed by: Dada Films
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
Fresh: 38 Rotten: 8
IMDB: 7.9 / 10
Director: Rick McKay
Producer: Rick McKay, Anne L. Bernstein
Screenwriter: Rick McKay
Although McKay - whose irritating narration, the usual guff about moving to New York from Indiana and just how exciting it all was, brackets the film - never really posits what exactly he's on about with "The Golden Age," two things quickly become clear: The time period he and his subjects want to talk about is Broadway theater from the 1930s to the 1950s, and that period really would have been something to behold. The cavalcade of interviewees all point to not just the embarrassment of riches that were around then in terms of both the material (Lerner & Lowe and Rodgers & Hammerstein were like musical hit factories, not to mention the new dramatic work being produced by the likes of Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller) and the talent, but another very simple factor: It was cheap. In a time of $480 The Producers tickets, it's partially nice but mostly infuriating to know that not so long ago it could cost less to go to a Broadway show than the movies.
Then there was the talent, a hefty selection of whom are seen on screen here. Shirley Maclaine relates how she literally went from unknown girl in the chorus to the headliner of a play in just one evening, while a scruffy Stephen Sondheim talks about how touch-and-go West Side Story was for a time. Beyond the usual canned stories, there are also some gems like the apparently universal belief (expressed by many here) that one of the most astounding performances of all time was the one given in the original 1945 Glass Menagerie by a Laurette Taylor. It's part of a theme too-briefly played with by McKay that one of the great things about the theater is its impermanence - the fact that person after person can rhapsodize about this apparently God-like piece of acting is frustrating but also invigorating, because there is no existing footage of that show. So if it weren't for these wide-eyed senior citizens (who seem like children when talking about great acting) there would be nobody save for a few theater historians to remember the likes of Laurette Taylor, who never made it big in Hollywood yet touched the hearts of these hardened professionals so profoundly that they still get misty just thinking about it, over half a century later.
Broadway: The Golden Age falls apart rather quickly at the end as it tries to put together a sort of storyline for the demise of Broadway (short version: Hair) but there's too little discipline here and the parade of talking heads is too lost in nostalgia to be all that helpful. But for all its faults, as a living document of such an ephemeral, easily-lost art form, the film is a marvelous thing to behold and quite worthy of your time.
Stars on stars on stars.