Photos: The Golden Age of Broadway is celebrated in a new online exhibit A new virtual art exhibition celebrates theater, movies and television with original sketches by Broadway set and costume designers.

Photos: The Golden Age of Broadway is celebrated in a new online exhibit

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

There's a new virtual art exhibit called Swell that celebrates theater, movies and television. It has original sketches by Broadway set and costume designers and paintings and drawings of shows and theaters. Jeff Lunden took a tour so he could tell us all about it.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: The exhibition takes its name - You'll Be Swell! You'll Be Great! - from a song from the musical "Gypsy" by Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVERYTHING’S COMING UP ROSES")

ETHEL MERMAN: (Singing) You'll be swell. You'll be great.

LUNDEN: And the art in the show is pretty swell. The exhibition is the brainchild of Keith Sherman, who is a theater publicist and collects 20th century art with his husband. We met in Sherman's office over Sardi's Restaurant in the theater district.

KEITH SHERMAN: Because I'd been working in the arts and entertainment for so long, I'm also attracted to images of the theater and film and television and music and dance. And I only buy things that I love.

LUNDEN: But they decided to sell about three dozen of those works in their online gallery, Helicline Fine Art. Most of the art comes from what's considered Broadway's golden age, from the 1930s to the '60s. He picked up a costume sketch of an iconic Broadway look.

SHERMAN: In my hands now is a drawing created by Freddy Wittop of the red dress, the red dress that Carol Channing wore in the original production of "Hello, Dolly!"

LUNDEN: It's the frilly beaded gown, complete with a feathered hat, that Dolly wears to the Harmonia Gardens, where she's serenaded by waiters with the title song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HELLO, DOLLY!")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Well, hello, Dolly.

LARRY MASLON: You look at Freddy Wittop's costume design for Carol Channing in "Hello, Dolly!" and remember it as an age when great original musicals were made for big stars.

LUNDEN: Larry Maslon is the theater historian who co-produced the PBS series "Broadway." He visited the exhibition online.

MASLON: You look at these exhibits and these drawings through what you know of today, and you just marvel at the personal scale of the artistry in pen and ink and watercolor and pencil that these titans of the mid-20th century had.

LUNDEN: Maslon points out a pen and ink rendering by set designer Oliver Smith. It's the Coney Island Ballet curtain for the 1944 musical "On The Town," which was the Broadway debut for songwriters Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green. The sketch is a fantasy of roller coasters and twinkling seaside attractions in blues and browns.

MASLON: And you're transported to this most magical place simply by the skill of his rendering and his vivid imagination.

LUNDEN: The exhibition is filled with treasures like this - a drawing of the set for Tennessee Williams' "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof," caricatures by the great Al Hirschfeld, and paintings of theater interiors and actors who filled their stages. Keith Sherman showed me a colorful cubist portrait from 1931.

SHERMAN: If you recognize this image, it's an iconic poster of Josephine Baker. This is the original drawing. This is a gouache from which the poster was made.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'RE THE ONE I CARE FOR")

JOSEPHINE BAKER: (Singing) You're the one I care for. You're the one, and therefore...

LUNDEN: For Keith Sherman, the online exhibition gives him an opportunity...

SHERMAN: To let others share in the love that we've been feeling for a long time. And I'm just having a great time with it.

LUNDEN: I did, too.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'RE THE ONE I CARE FOR")

BAKER: (Singing) At last I've met my fate. I'm glad that I could wait until I found someone like you...

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