Shepherd’s Luncheon Celebrates Rick McKay’s “Broadway: The Golden Age”

Astronomers have long pondered what would happen if two great stars collided. But we in The Lambs know the answer: You get our dedicated Recording Secretary, Entertainment Chair, and Broadway veteran, Randy Phillips, along with his very own favorite star and longtime sweetheart, Sheila Smith. Broadway veterans both, they have been “an item” ever since their association with the original run of what was arguably my favorite Broadway musical ever: Jerry Herman’s delicious, “MAME.” How fitting then, that they combined their star power to assemble the stunning Shepherd’s Luncheon of May 14, 2007, which celebrated Rick McKay’s award-winning film, “Broadway: The Golden Age.” Not content with capturing Mr. McKay himself to host the presentation, they filled the room with accomplished Broadway performers that were introduced to the crowd during Randy’s opening remarks. They included Ziegfeld showgirl, Fay Lytelle, renowned choreographer, Gene Bayliss, prolific Musical Director/Arranger, Don Pippin, accomplished dancer, Nicole Barth, actress, Eileen Casey, actor, Jack Drummond, Broadway’s first female Musical Director, Liza Redfield, singer/actress, and gourmet cook, Jill O’Hara, Musical Director/Vocal Arranger, Jack Lee, Broadway singer/dancer, Jane Summerhays, and an “old pro” introduced as “everybody’s favorite Lamb,” star of stage, screen, and television, actor Abe Vigoda.

Then it was time to introduce the man of the hour, which Mr. Phillips did with his customary panache as he proudly announced, “And now…Direct from Ft. Lauderdale, Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, Antarctica, New Zealand and Beech Grove, Indiana, the award-winning filmmaker and raconteur… Mr. RICK McKAY!” The enthusiastic and infectiously cheerful McKay then began his fascinating tale of building his dream to capture the years of “Broadway: The Golden Age” in the words of the many performers who were there during the era. The production was aptly subtitled, “One filmmaker’s search for a Broadway that was lost, and the 100 legends he found.” McKay told how his journey began in his boyhood hometown of Beech Grove, Indiana, where there was no theatre or movie house, and he depended on televised movies to acquaint him with the wonders of Broadway musicals. When he finally branched out to New York, nightclubs, cabarets, and cruise ship entertainment venues, he determined that the Golden Age of Broadway was over. It was then he began considering how that Golden Age might be preserved. He began with friends and acquaintances like Barbara Cook and Gwen Verdon, capturing their Broadway reminiscences with on-camera interviews. When he approached the powers that be at PBS regarding his accumulating material, they turned him away suggesting he consider interviews with younger, more contemporary stars like Julia Roberts. Shortly thereafter, the disappointed McKay read in the New York Times that Gwen Verdon had passed away. He had captured on film her last interview, and this was the revelation he needed that this work of preservation must continue. He never looked back during the trips to four countries and the six years of research that followed.

The lovely spring afternoon of this luncheon seemed to literally fly by as McKay shared film clips (Lamb, Peter Kingsley, did a great job with the video elements), and told fascinating tales of his experiences while filming the production that would be selected as “Best Film“ at 17 film festivals. Guests learned how PBS finally came begging to televise “Golden Age” with an opening night telecast that was a successful challenger to the competing season opener of “The Sopranos.” (Two sequels are already in the planning stages: Due first, in late 2007, is “Broadway: Beyond the Golden Age,” followed by “Broadway: The Next Generation” in 2008).

McKay told his audience a wonderful story of how he gained a memorable interview with Beatrice Arthur in her home, but not before horrifying the star when she learned that he alone would be cinematographer, light man, and sound designer. Quipped Miss Arthur, “I shudder to think who’s interviewing me!” While visiting Miss Arthur, McKay caught a glimpse of a letter lying open on a kitchen counter. It mentioned her friends Nanette Fabray, Carole Burnett, Shirley MacLaine, and Angela Lansbury. McKay and Miss Arthur hit it off so well, that following a bit of finagling on his part, she soon gave him contact information for those ladies, and more memorable interviews followed. Upon seeing the film’s premiere, Lansbury was quoted as saying, “If I had seen this film in a theatre and wasn’t in it, it would have broken my heart!”

Another wonderful story revolved around McKay’s interview of Maureen Stapleton at her home after she tried to shut him out as he persisted by slipping his foot in her doorway. All ended happily with what would be Stapleton’s last interview. Then there was an extraordinary section of film with three separate vocal segments from original cast members of “ Ain’t Misbehavin’.” It was so seamlessly edited together it amazed the audience. There were stories of Marlon Brando, Cornel Wilde, and Anna Magnani, and then a very poignant story of the sad decline of actress, Mary Ure, describing how the troubled performer was dismissed from the 1974 cast of “Love For Love,” only to be replaced by the then unknown, Glenn Close. In her interview with McKay, Miss Close tells of the touching way in which Miss Ure followed theatrical tradition, writing her opening night best wishes in taking over her role, and suggesting she “be brave and strong,” advice Miss Close claims has guided her career.

McKay, who conducted many of his interviews in his one bedroom apartment in Manhattan, amused the crowd with film of a pet bird landing on Patricia Morrison’s head, and allergy outtakes of sneezing stars who could not handle the dander of his pet cat. Victims included Betty Buckley, Rex Reed, Liza Minnelli, and a nearly overwhelmed Alec Baldwin. In an effort to aid the allergic Miss Minnelli, McKay innocently prepared her a cocktail of Claritin D and diet Coke that gave the normally very animated star unexpected new levels of hyperactivity. And speaking of Liza, McKay shared a rare film clip (captured in 1975 by Broadway performer, Candy Brown) of Minnelli’s midnight rehearsal with Chita Rivera just the night before Liza replaced the ailing Gwen Verdon in “Chicago.” Like the wonderful luncheon itself, it was a rare gem.

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About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), The International Theatre Critics Association, and America's oldest theatrical club, The Lambs, he also had long service as the editor of The Lambs' Script magazine. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.
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