Reviewed by David Spencer

Strictly speaking, the name is a misnomer. Not all the videotapes in their catalogue are tapes of Broadway plays, nor even necessarily of plays as they were originally produced. But the name is memorable (if not quite catchy) and it will rightfully bring many theatre aficionados to the site to check out its wares. Those wares being primarily—though not solely—television adaptations of theatrical works, primarily as produced by and for public television—going as far back as when the PBS call letters were NET (National Educational Television). The cassettes are pristine, clear reproductions in VHS-hi-fi format, friendly to both hi-fi stereo and linear monaural players.

That said, tapes are not cheap—$39.95 a pop—but considering what you might otherwise have paid to see Colleen Dewhurst and Jason Robards in Eugene O’Neill’s "A Moon for the Misbegotten" once, the price for seeing them go at it whenever and as often as you like is not such a bad trade-off. This, of course, is a video transposition of the mid-70s José Quintero Broadway revival (co-starring "St Elsewhere"’s Ed Flanders—and there are others, such as Lanford Wilson’s "Fifth of July" with Richard Thomas (who took over from, and far outshined, Christopher Reeve, a number of months into the run).

If I’m any barometer, the opportunity to view classics, as well as too-long-overlooked plays by authors who never quite hit the mainstream longevity they deserved—such as Ronald Ribman ("Journey of the Fifth Horse") and William Alfred ("Hogan’s Goat")—will come as thrilling (and sometimes mind-blowing) nostalgia to those old enough to have seen the original broadcasts, revelation to those who will be seeing them for the first time, and an invaluable research source for all theatre lovers and professionals everywhere.

And there’s one other thrill—that of seeing actors who were stars on the come in the years just before, or immediately after, they hit. In the latter category, the aforementioned "Hogan’s Goat", features original cast member Faye Dunaway (the play opened in 1965—a before period—but was broadcast in 1970, after Dunaway had become a boxd office mainstay). Also in the video cast are Robert Foxworth, Rue McClanahan, Philip Bosco, Kevin Conway and George Rose—all looking, relatively speaking, like babies.

But that blast of video youth is as nothing to the black-and-white presentation of Maxwell Anderson’s forgotten, gentle time-travel fantasy, "The Star-Wagon", a 1937 play mounted for television in 1966, in which Orson Bean and a pre-"Graduate" Dustin Hoffman portray very old and then very young versions of their characters. (Bean plays a scientist who has never lost his idealism or naïveté, Hoffman plays his avuncular, eccentric sidekick, and the two of them together have a spontaneously rhythmic chemistry as memorable and singular as Culp and Cosby in "I Spy," with Hoffman sticking assiduously to the script [which I know only because I own a copy] and Bean delightfully, lightly improvising around the corners of the text, in a manner that I think Anderson might have even loved). And a very foxy Eileen Brennan plays a shallow but captivating femme fatale. (One warning: for those who were enchanted by "The Star-Wagon" when it was broadcast, it is a helluva lot slower of pace and cruder of production value [and a somewhat more quaint and transparent script] than you may remember—certainly the tale captured my junior-high school imagination such that I had romanticized its execution in the years since, to find myself, now, flabbergasted at just how stately and graceless Karl Genus’s direction is. But you know what? Even that’s a hoot—comparing your state-of-the-art memory with the reality of the bygone era, and clocking just how little it actually took to leave an indelible impression.)

As more rights are cleared and the catalog increases—assuming it does all the business it needs to justify same—it can only become more exciting and more valuable. If I have any suggestion to make that’s worthwhile, I might urge those in charge to make the prices more competitive and to hook-up somehow with the more prominent virtual outlets, such as and—the cross-pollination can only help.

The rest, I suppose, is up to you, dear reader. I imagine— like any other business—will be there for you so long as you’re there for it.

Here’s to a long symbiosis…


One more recent theatrical video tip: the Docurama label has released, in both DVD and VHS formats, "Moon Over Broadway", the acclaimed documentary by Charles Hegedus and D A Pennebaker (the latter of whom is perhaps best known in "our" circles for his riveting film, "Cast Album: Company" about the recording of the 1970 Sondheim-Furth-Prince musical).

As a no-bullshit look behind the scenes at a Broadway show in the making—that show being Ken Ludwig’s affectionate showbiz farce "Moon Over Buffalo", which starred Carol Burnett and Philip Bosco under the direction of Tom Moore—"Moon Over Broadway" can’t be beat for its accuracy and candor. It faithfully captures the tensions, eccentricities and issues attendant upon any developing production, as well as those specific to the play, and while I wouldn’t say there’s anything particularly scandalous caught on film, I would assume that here and there one player or another might have reacted with, "I wish I hadn’t said/done that—on film!"

If there’s a caveat about the documentary, it may be that the play itself was a middling entry and its "troubles," such as they were, were mild ones, in which all hands seemed to be doing their jobs responsibly, professionally and well, however wisely or unwisely they may have expressed any ambivalence, uncertainty or insecurity—and whatever bumps in the road they may have faced. So while the film is a good look at how veteran pros get a show on, that particular show was too untroubled to be an object lesson and too middle-brow of vision to be a textbook. The event sort of is what it is.

But the filmmakers could not have known the outcome when they began, any more than the creative personnel. Which is what provides the internal suspense. And why, one way or the other, as documentary films of the lively arts go, there’s nothing else quite like it…

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