Since then, it has consistently been a national treasure, giving its audience the equivalent of the best seats in the house for broadcasts of "Bernstein's Mass" (1974); "Julius Caesar" (1979); the complete cycle of Wagner's "Ring" (1983); "Sweeney Todd" (1985); Paul McCartney's "Liverpool Oratorio" (1991); "Recording 'The Producers': A Musical Romp with Mel Brooks" (2001); and this season's outstanding production of "Kiss Me Kate." The latter was the first Broadway revival in nearly 50 years of Cole Porter's musical comedy masterpiece.
As a much-deserved tribute to itself, "Great Performances" this year put together a 30th anniversary special of memorable moments from its history. Nathan Lane, who confesses he's "never been to a PBS party," although he's appeared on the series a number of times, hosted the special, which was taped at New York's famed Sardi's. ("Having your picture on the wall here at Sardi's is a rite of passage for celebrities," he deadpanned. "It's sort of like your first police mug shot or your first sham marriage.")
The special couldn't come close to really summarizing what the series has meant through the decades to discerning viewers. Where else is one to see music by the cast of "Cats"; a celebration of the work of Oscar Hammerstein II; a dazzling performance of "Unforgettable by Natalie Cole and her late father"; Mikhail Baryshnikov in Twyla Tharp's choreography set to Frank Sinatra's "That's Life"; Itzhak Perlman playing "Wedding Dance" from "Fiddler on the Roof"; or the incomparable Julie Andrews in concert, singing "The Sound of Music" with such enthusiasm and soaring talent that you'd swear she and we would never grow tired of it.
For such great moments in theater, dance and music, we have the creative and innovative Jac Venza to thank. And we do. S
"Great Performances 30th Anniversary Special" airs June 1 at 3 p.m. and June 5 at 8 p.m. on WCVE-TV.
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