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YouBroadway: the magic of musical theater online.

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In the interviews accompanying the telecast of the 2000 Tony Awards, Kathleen Marshall characterized the ineffable something that distinguishes Broadway musicals from every other kind of theater. She called it a "showoff quality," and then she elaborated a bit: "Somebody come in and just knock me out."

It's a great description, but don't get the idea that I remember it from eight years ago. I found a clip of the interview not long ago while trolling YouTube (www.youtube.com), which is a treasure trove of Broadway numbers and know how. It's not a place to go to be knocked out for that, you need a real theater rather than your computer screen. But for anyone working in musicals, it is an incredible resource--almost a primer of how it's done at the highest level.

For example, you can find out how to put together an opening number. It's by watching Bob Fosse's prelude to Pippin, which won the 1973 Tony for choreography. Some of us remember the show with great fondness; others have never heard of it. Where else would such a precious snippet be easily available for general consumption? The elements of the number, "Magic to Do," are quite simple--though I don't suppose you can really call a powerhouse performer like Ben Vereen simple. Fosse builds it from scratch: At first, the only body parts you see are hands. Slowly, Fosse widens the lens until the stage is a vast panorama of moving entertainers, and the audience has been hooked and slowly reeled in--and Pippin, the musical's hero, hasn't even shown up yet!

Once the audience is ready to follow, you've got to know how to take them somewhere. Probably no Broadway choreographer has ever been able to match the storytelling skills of Jerome Robbins. Check out the opening of the film ver sion of West Side Story, and there's no question that the fluid camera work--it's overhead, it's below, it's tracking--adds to the impact of what Robbins achieved with the choreography. But that choreography-set to orchestral music only--worked just as well on the stage to establish the character of Tony and the Jets, of Bernardo and the Sharks, and, most crucially, of their tough-guy neighborhood and the pent-up rage that poisons it.

Susan Stroman had a different kind of story in mind when she created the Tony-winning Contact, and you can click on the mastery that won her the 2000 Tony. The melding of sex--in the hot dancing of Deborah Yates and Sean Martin Hingston--and humor in the comically inept efforts of Boyd Gaines to keep up is, well, simply irresistible.

Stroman had a handpicked cast of great dancers and a dance-ready milieu in Contact's story of a lonely guy who meets a girl in a yellow dress. But to see how movement can transform even a scene where just about everyone onstage is sitting down, visit the meeting at the Save-a-Soul Mission in the 1992 revival of Guys and Dolls. Director Jerry Zaks and choreographer Christopher Chadman give the seated gamblers so much to do that "Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat" feels like a dance number.

But terrific dance numbers will be wasted if a musical doesn't end with a bang. For a big finish, nothing beats Michael Bennett's "One"--kick, hat, kick, hat, kick, hat--from A Chorus Line, and YouTube gets you a particularly nifty version. It's the one from "Baryshnikov on Broadway," the television special he did with Liza Minnelli. Find it in the ThemTube area, which of course, is the aficionado-posted source for many of the Broadway nuggets on YouTube. These include Tony broadcasts, specials, even ordinary variety shows, which in the bad old days of black and white TV regularly featured performers and numbers from the hits of the day (an example: Tony Randall dancing with Danilova in a bit from Oh, Captain on Dinah Shore's TV show).

You can also find professionally produced clips from high-end DVDs and low-grade, grainy video that looks like it was recorded on a cell phone. And you never know what you'll get if you search for a show or a number. When I looked for Robbins' "Bottle Dance" from the wedding scene in Fiddler on the Roof, I found the wonderful movie version, the equally wonderful cast of the 2004 revival performing it at the Tony Awards and, amazingly--since Robbins based the number on a borscht belt routine, not on folk traditions--several home-shot versions from actual Jewish weddings.

That may be just life imitating art, but what's going on when you find an Australian troupe demonstrating its Fosse moves in Hong Kong with a number from Chicago? Or Chita Rivera's comments about working with Fosse being overdubbed in Japanese? Of course, if you want Chita in the original you can catch her and Gwen Verdon doing "Nowadays" with a click of the mouse, and then compare and contrast with Bebe Neuwirth and Ann Reinking in the revival or Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones in the movie. And perhaps also with two kids from the local high school whose path to Broadway is being paved as we speak. Or, anyway, as we watch.

Sylviane Gold has written on theater for Newsday and The New York Times.
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Title Annotation:on broadway
Author:Gold, Sylviane
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2008
Words:872
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