Stephen Sondheim, Liza Minnelli, Angela Lansbury, Christine Ebersole and other great stars of American music and musical theatre share the spotlight with the country’s most passionate music preservationist as Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook returns to PBS for its star-studded, three-part season on Friday, April 5, at 9 pm. The series, which debuted in October 2010, has taken viewers on a dynamic road trip through the glorious history of American song by the acclaimed musician and five-time Grammy-nominated vocalist.
Season Three finds Feinstein exploring the enduring popularity of show tunes, the pas de deux between music and choreography on stage and the big screen, and the indelible impact that radio — in its star-making heyday — had on the American musical canon.
While crisscrossing the country on a seemingly endless stream of concert dates, Feinstein conducts candid interviews with revered composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim (Sweeney Todd, West Side Story, Follies) and the multiple Award-winning Broadway and television legend Angela Lansbury. He sings with Tony Award-winning actress Christine Ebersole, reminisces with Liza Minnelli about the great dance stars Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, hosts superstar violinist Joshua Bell on his public radio show, and visits with some of the country’s most well-versed and colorful collectors of musical recordings and music ephemera.
WNET/Thirteen (and most PBS stations) will air the series as follows: Friday, April 5, “Show Tunes” at 9 pm, followed immediately by “Let’s Dance” at 10 pm; and then Friday, April 12, “On the Air” at 10 pm.
CPTV will be showing the series on s a different schedule, on three consecutive Friday evenings: April 5, “Show Tunes”; April 12, “Let’s Dance”; and April 19, “On the Air.” The CPTV screenings will all begin at 10 pm.
The series is produced by Hudson West Productions, with producer and director Amber Edwards of Newtown, and co-producer and director of photography Dave Davidson.
Ms Edwards’s numerous awards include 12 regional Emmy Awards, including a 2007 New York Emmy for Magazine Program, eight CINE Golden Eagles, two Chris statuettes from the Columbus International Film Festival, two CEN Programming awards, two Gold Remi Awards from World-Fest Houston, a NETA award, a Silver Plaque from the Chicago International Film Festival, the Silver Screen Award from the US International Film & Video Festival, and two Silver Apples from the National Educational Media Network.
According to Ms Edwards, there are a number of local connections to this season’s episodes of Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook, which is also the final season of the series.
“The radio historian and collector David Goldin of Sandy Hook is featured prominently in the third show, ‘On the Air,’ as is the late Frank Jacoby of Weston [whose son lives in Newtown],” Ms Edwards told The Newtown Bee. “There is a segment where Michael visits the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam [in ‘Show Tunes’].”
Details for the third (and final, according to Ms Edwards) season of Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook includes:
“Show Tunes” — Stars in the Broadway universe don’t shine much brighter than Stephen Sondheim, Angela Lansbury and Christine Ebersole, all of whom appear in this episode about great American musicals. Sondheim reveals the composers he most admires and shows Feinstein some rare home movie footage of the original Broadway production of the classic Follies.
Tony Award-winner Ebersole gives a tour de force performance of some of the greatest show tunes of all time, and Lansbury reflects on her Broadway career, from Mame to Sweeney Todd and Gypsy. Feinstein also has a surprise for Lansbury during their interview.
Feinstein discusses his personal relationship with Ira Gershwin (also the topic of his recent book) and performs the classic “Lullaby of Broadway,” “Let Me Entertain You” and “No One Is Alone.”
“Let’s Dance” — Fred Astaire is Michael Feinstein’s favorite singer — but he also was the favorite singer of Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and George and Ira Gershwin. Why was this dancer, first-and-foremost, so beloved by America’s great composers?
With that question, Feinstein launches into an exploration of the marriage between music and choreography, unearthing rare home movies of Astaire rehearsing on set, and remarkable memorabilia from that other screen-dance icon, Gene Kelly. Kelly stuns in never-before-seen footage of his star-making performance in the original Broadway production of Pal Joey, as does the iconic Cyd Charisse, seen in her first television performance.
Liza Minnelli, who knew Kelly and Astaire, discusses their unique styles and techniques. She also is seen in vintage television clips dancing with Kelly and performing some memorably steamy choreography. Feinstein indulges his inner Astaire with private dance lessons, learning differences between the fox trot and the turkey trot, among others.
Finally he explores the endless popularity of ballroom dance and performs the classics “Change Partners,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Shall We Dance” and “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.”
“On the Air” — Today, American Idol is the country’s biggest music star-maker, but decades ago, the Golden Age of Radio fulfilled the idol-making role in the United States. Feinstein traces the phenomenon with archival clips of Bing Crosby, Cab Calloway, Kate Smith and many others.
He visits with TV and stage star Rose Marie (best known as “Sally Rogers” on The Dick Van Dyke Show) and learns about her career as a highly paid child radio star named “Baby” Rose Marie.
On his own syndicated public radio program, Feinstein showcases the virtuoso talents of classical superstars, including violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Jeremy Denk, who perform together and discuss intersections of classical and popular music.
This episode includes visits to collectors of vintage radios and radio programs. Finally, he discovers a lost radio program that featured Rosemary Clooney, and recalls his own memorable duet with her.