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Reviewed April 4th, 2003 by Brian White


It is interesting to see a performer who has diversified his talents and succeeded on a huge scale return to his roots. This is the case with Robin Williams, returning to standup comedy after switching gears to film, and winning an Oscar along the way. Robin Williams Live on Broadway is a DVD that captures the show that was aired live on HBO. The fact that the show aired live is significant, because this is not often the case with a comedy show.

The reviews of this tour were certainly enough to peak interest. When he visited Toronto, Williams performed a large amount of localized material. He made fun of both Toronto's mayor, and political issues that are happening on a national level. He does a credible imitation of the Canadian Prime Minister, and can do both a French (France) and a Quebec accent. All of this is significant because despite the work that Williams put into the material, it was only useful for a limited audience. This is a barometer of the work that he must have put into creating the material for each show on the tour.

How is the show? Well initially, it is a bit of a dud. Williams is a very entertaining person, so witnessing his energy on stage is always quite remarkable. Unfortunately, the beginning of the show is somewhat ordinary. But then something remarkable happens. This show builds to heights that I didn't think Mr. Williams still had in him.

Williams is brave enough to delve back into the depths of humor that he used in his youth. Jokes are quite scatological and blue. It is all done with great craft and skill. The bit about the drunken Scot inventing golf is hilarious. Also, given that Mr. Williams is crazy, he's all over the map, and all over the stage. When the show is finished, he's drenched with both sweat and water.

So how to capture such a performance? Simple: put a bunch of cameras up and edit it together in post. Ah, but it's live. How do you do that, without screwing the whole thing up, or putting the audience at home to sleep with too few shots? Director Marty Callner captured the evening quite successfully. This was clearly a daunting task, and the film comes off with a lot of professionalism. The DVD has been left with the same shots used for the live broadcast to capture the feeling of that night. This was a smart move.

Because this show went out live, it has a certain energy and danger that is not evident in other “live” comedic concerts. Everything was on the line here, because so many factors could have screwed up the appearance: a dead audience, an off night for Williams, technical issues, and uncontrolled circumstances that life throws at us. Apart from all of this, Williams has a lot to prove, as this is clearly a comeback. Despite the risks, or maybe because of them, this show is a great success.

What is the video like? Well I want to say that HBO put this thing out in high definition, because the image quality is very good. However, the aspect ratio is full-frame, so I doubt that the show was filmed in High Def. Thank God the home video revolution has caused directors to use better cameras, because this DVD looks fantastic, despite the old-school shape of the picture.

As for audio, a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is supplied. This mix gives you great clarity, and it adds to the live feel of the show. The viewer is certainly meant to feel like he or she is sitting in the audience because crowd sounds dominate the surrounds. I don't know how useful the crowd sounds are. It is almost disconcerting to hear a guy clapping over there, and another person whistling over there. Strange.

For extras, you have a great conversation between Robin Williams and Callner. This was filmed specifically for the DVD release. They talk at great length about the difficulties of mounting this production, and the positive feedback that they have received. Also included is footage of Williams backstage right before the show. You can see the energy there, and can appreciate how terrifying it must be to see the HBO call sign light up on a television before the show you are about to perform. More superfluous is a little montage of Williams making funny noises.


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