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TV preview: 40 years of 'Great Performances' joyously celebrated with clips and live performances

Published: Thursday, Oct. 17 2013 6:18 p.m. MDT

Broadway luminary Audra McDonald sings "Dear Friend" from "She Loves Me" and Jason Robert Brown's "Stars and the Moon" during Great Performances 40th Anniversary Celebration.

Joseph Sinnott

Watching PBS broadcasts of New York City stage productions from her childhood home in Fresno, Calif., Audra McDonald was inspired to pursue a Broadway career.

Peter Martins generously thanks “Great Performances” for creating a library of dance works recorded for television and adapted directly by George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Martha Graham and similar renowned choreographers.

David Hyde Pierce wryly notes that scores of PBS viewers watched dramatic works by Shakespeare and other famous playwrights yet still selected respectable professions other than acting.

At the onset it could be assumed that “Great Performances’ 40th Anniversary Celebration,” airing on KUED on Friday, Oct. 18, at 8 p.m., is a 90-minute pledge break, reminding that PBS relies upon contributions from "viewers like you."

However, four decades of nationwide service as the unparalleled platform of the best in the performing arts is worthy of a major celebration. And the producers have enlisted joyous leading artists in a wide array of the genres to perform and introduce clips of PBS-recorded performances through the history of “Great Performances,” the longest-running cultural programming series.

“Great Performances” began with a simple premise: “to provide a home for the world’s greatest artists,” announces host Julie Andrews.

“The series would be a showcase for the best in music, drama and dance. As you will see tonight, four decades later, this vision not only succeeded, but it has grown to give viewers across the country a front-row seat to the performing arts,” she explains.

The genres presented, live performances and archival footage, include:

Rock/pop music: singer Don Henley singing the Eagles’ “Desperado” and introducing Eric Clapton at the Crossroads Music Festival, Paul Simon’s “In Concert from Paris” and Bruce Springsteen in “The Bob Seger Sessions.”

Dramatic stagings: actor Hyde Pierce presenting clips of James Earl Jones in “King Lear,” John Lithgow and Meryl Streep in “Secret Service,” and Kevin Kline and Jennifer Garner in “Cyrano de Bergerac.”

Musical theater: Broadway artist McDonald singing “Dear Friend” from “She Loves Me” and Jason Robert Brown’s “Stars and the Moon” and introducing footage of Andrews in “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella,” Hugh Jackman in “Oklahoma!” and McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell singing “Wheels of a Dream” from “Ragtime.”

Dance: Martins, ballet master in chief of New York City Ballet, presenting Andrew Veyette and members of the New York City Ballet dancing “It Should Have Been Me,” set to music of Ray Charles, and introducing clips of Mikhail Baryshnikov in “The Prodigal Son”; Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s artistic director Judith Jamison in “Alvin Ailey: Memories and Visions”; and Rudolf Nureyev with the Joffrey Ballet in “The Afternoon of a Faun.”

Other performers include Josh Groban singing “Changing Colors" and “Not While I’m Around” from “Sweeney Todd" and Michael Bublé singing “That’s All” and “I’ve Got the World on a String,” representing American Songbook soloists; violinist Itzhak Perlman performing “A Dudele” and “Dem Trisker Rebn’s Nign” (“Song of the Rabbi” from “Trisk”), classical music; mezzo soprano Elīna Garanča singing “Chanson Bohéme” (“Gypsy Song”) from “Carmen,” opera; and Take 6 singing “Just in Time” from “Bells Are Ringing” and Patti Austin’s “How High the Moon,” jazz.

Happy 40th, “Great Performances”! Best wishes for another 40 years.

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