Great Performances,” in business for 20 years, marks the occasion with a fistful of new works. With a sunny send-off by Meryl Streep, program presents a potpourri worth dropping in on for at least a browse.
Some of the works are delightful surprises, such as “Hip Hop You Don’t Stop,” in which eight youths known as the Rhythmn Technicians & Rock Steady Crew, moving from an alleyway to an outdoor stage, revel in disciplined artistry. They chant, dance, perform gymnastics in pairs or in unison with an undeniable, mesmerizing driving force.
Terrence McNally’s uneven “The Last Mile,” directed by Paul Bogart, featuring Bernadette Peters as a soprano making her debut at the Met, leads off with minor comedy business. Peters enacts a touching revelation of a timely sadness that’s helping her battle stage fright. Peters is a gem, with Bill Irwin terrif as a cynical conductor.
“Kiss Kiss Dahlings,” three-part sketch trading on the temperamental star legend, casts Nancy Marchand as a stage grande dame, Blythe Danner as her actress-daughter and Cynthia Nixon playing Danner’s daughter. Three parts take place at different epochs with different characters; it’s an enterprising exercise, though the first, set backstage at the Moscow Art Theater in 1900, is a trifle. The actresses behave with panache.
Matthew Broderick appears in a slight vignette with music by Cy Coleman about a child musical prodigy growing up. Best part: Jane Krakowski bluesing up “A Simple Melody.”
Fred Astaire tribute choreo’d by Peter Martins teams Robert LaFosse with Kyra Nichols as a slick dance duo in which LaFosse goes through the Astaire motions sans the touch or partner chemistry; footwork’s just fine.
“Frankie Goes to Tanglewood,” in which Leonard Bernstein’s daughter takes her own daughter Frankie to Tanglewood to show her (and viewers) where Frankie’s granddad replenished himself, proves a pleasant sojourn.
Another act: Choreographer Twyla Tharp and Mikhail Baryshnikov display modern dance and classical approaches, with Baryshnikov igniting the TV screen with graceful application of contemporary styles.
An exuberant “Hallelujah” with a chorus including Patti Austin, Al Jarreau, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, Johnny Mathis, Take 6 and a full complement of gospel singers led by Quincy Jones raises Handel’s roof with joy. It’s too brief.
Diverse cultural series, as with the 1950s “Omnibus,” find their own level, and on the strength of past “GP” showings the anni spec should grab considerable interest. Too bad to wait 20 years more for its like.