Friday, November 30, 2018

lost tv musicals

Thanks to the focused, unrelenting drive of producer Neal Meron and his late partner, Craig Zadan, TV musicals are not only back in vogue but also treated as events by the networks that seem fully committed to them.

NBC's reboot of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The Sound of Music" (this version presented, thankfully, in full fidelity to the stage play) is the crown jewel among the Meron-Zadan productions, while Fox's remake of "Grease" (stunningly directed by Thomas Kail and Alex Rudzinski) remains the best TV musical to date, hands-down. In my opinion.

Whereas most viewers may assume that TV musicals are something new, people of a certain age know better. That's because there's a huge time gap between the musicals that have been recently made for TV and those that were staged decades ago - when they were also viewed as "events."

Arguably the first stage musical recorded for TV - but, inarguably, the best known - is Mary Martin's  "Peter Pan," which originally aired on NBC's "Producer's Showcase" on December 8, 1960. (Martin also performed two earlier live versions of "Pan" - aired March 7, 1955 and January 9, 1956 - that, to the best of my knowledge, were never preserved on film.)

Mounted for Broadway in 1954 by Jerome Robbins,"Peter Pan" originally had only a few incidental songs by Moose Charlap and Carolyn Leigh, but was later expanded with songs by Jule Styne and Betty Comden & Adolph Green. Vincent J. Donehue directed the 1960 TV version which was rescued and restored a decade or two ago by the ever-resouceful Michael Arick and made available on DVD. Arick's restoration of the 1960 "Peter Pan" materialized during the aforementioned gap and became a reminder of the TV musical as a neglected sub-genre of musical-comedy history.

There were also two other noteworthies that aired on television during its early years. Delbert Mann's "Our Town," an original musical based on the Thornton Wilder play that was televised (also by NBC's "Producer's Showcase") on September 19, 1955. It starred Frank Sinatra as the stage manager and Eva Marie Saint and Paul Newman as the young leads, Emily Webb and George Gibbs. The score by James Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn included the haunting title song and the popular "Love and Marriage."

The Rosalind Russell-Leonard Bernstein collaboration, "Wonderful Town," opened on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theater on February 25, 1953, where it ran for 559 performances, and was adapted for TV by CBS, airing on November 30, 1958. A collection of autobiographical short stories by Ruth McKenney, under the title "My Sister Eileen," was the show's source. (The stories have been adapted variously into a 1940 play starring Shirley Booth, a 1942 film starring Russell, a 1955 screen musical with Betty Garrett, Janet Leigh and Jack Lemmon, and a 1960 CBS sitcom starring Elaine Stritch, all of them titled ... "My Sister Eileen.") Bernstein composed the music for "Wonderful Town" and Comden & Green (again) wrote the lyrics. George Abbott directed the Broadway original; Herbert Ross and Mel Ferber co-directed for television.

At least these three titles are still remembered, especially by Broadway afficianados, but there are several more, all waiting to be re-discovered...

"Damn Yankees!" When I interviewed Angela Lansbury while she was promoting "Bedknobs and Broomsticks," our conversation turned to Lee Remick, with whom Lansbury had appeared on screen in Martin Ritt's "The Long, Hot Summer" and on stage in Stephen Sondheim's "Anyone Can Whistle." Lansbury commented how Remick always wanted to be a musical-comedy star. Well, she got her chance in the role of Lola in director Kirk Browning's 1967 TV version of the Richard Adler-Jerry Ross faustian musical about baseball.  The production, bogged down with the era's psychedelic graphics, is pretty bad, but unlike the excellent 1958 Warner film adaption directed by George Abbott and Stanley Donen, this version kept the Ross-Adler score intact, reinstating "Near to You," "The Game" and "A Man Doesn’t Know."

Remick is more than terrific as Lola and the superb cast around her included Phil Silvers as Mr. Applegate, Jerry Lanning as Joe Hardy, Linda Lavin as the reporter Gloria Thorpe, Jim Backus as Benny, Ray Middleton as the elder Joe, and Fran Allison (of "Kookla, Fran and Ollie") as his wife Meg. NBC's General Electric Theater broadcast the show on April 7, 1967.

"I Do! I Do!" Another with Remick who teamed with Hal Linden in the roles essayed on stage by Mary Martin and Robert Preston. Based on the Jan De Hartog two-character play, "The Four Poster" (which starred the husband-wife team of Rex Harrison and Lili Palmer), the plot takes place entirely in the bedroom of a couple married for 50 years. Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, of "The Fantasticks" fame, composed the songs. (The Jones-Schmidt score includes "My Cup Runneth Over with Love.")  Gower Champion, who directed the stage musical, encored. Champion originally wanted to do the material as a film in 1969 with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke but, by then, movie musicals were undesirable. Champion filmed the show before a live audience in Los Angeles in 1982. It was broadcast a year later. I can locate no information about the network involved, but I've a vague recollection that it was PBS. Any ideas? Share.

"It's a Bird ... It's a Plane ... It's Superman!" Back in 1966, Harold Prince joined forces with "Bonnie and Clyde" scribes Robert Benton and David Newman for an ambitious musical version of the "Superman" comic, with songs by "Bye Bye Birdie's" Charles Strouse and Lee Adams. It was an exhilarating show with standout supporting performances by Linda Lavin, Jack Cassidy and Michael O'Sullivan but it lasted at the Alvin Theatre for only 129 performances.

Nine years later, for some bizarre reason, ABC decided to resurrect the material for an abbreviated 90-minute adaptation, which it then promptly abandoned. It was televised only once - and in an 11:30 p.m. time slot - and then disappeared. The cast included David Wilson as the title character/Clark Kent, Lesley Ann Warren as Lois Lane, Kenneth Mars as columnist Max Mencken (Cassidy on stage), Loretta Swit as reporter Sydney Carlton (Lavin on stage), and David Wayne, a hoot as the villain, mad scientist Dr. Abner Sedgwick (O'Sullivan on stage). Broadcast date: February 21, 1975.

Oh yeah, it should be noted that Benton and Newman also collaborated on the 1978 Richard Donner "Superman" movie with Mario Puzo, an uncredited Tom Mankiewicz and Newman's wife, Leslie.
"Applause" Larry Hagman stepped in for Len Cariou for the filmed TV version of Lauren Bacall's Tony Award-winning (but watered-down) musical version of "All About Eve." It was shot by CBS during the production’s London run, with most of the West End cast. Penny Fuller and Robert Mandan, however, joined the cast, recreating their original Broadway roles. Also starring Harvey Evans, Sarah Marshall, Rod McLennan and Debbie Bowen. The score? By "Bye Bye Birdie's" Charles Strouse and Lee Adams again. Broadcast date: March 15, 1973.

"The Fantasticks" Another Tom Jones-Harvey Schmidt musical, something of  an off-Broadway legend. David Greene ("Godspell") and Fielder Cook co-directed a terrific cast for the NBC telecast  - Ricardo Montalban, as El Gallo, John Davidson & Susan Watson (the original Kim Macafee in the Broadway version of "Bye Bye Birdie") as the young lovers, and  Bert Lahr and Stanley Holloway as their fathers. Broadcast date: October 18, 1964.

"The Fantasticks" would, of course, be eventually filmed by Michael Ritchie for United Artists - and deconstructed mercilessly (i.e., heavily edited) by a Francis Ford Coppola assistant.

Thankfully, Twilight Time included a BluRay of Ritchie's original 106-minute cut in its DVD reissue of the 86-minute Coppola version. 

Meet Me in St. Louis Poster"Dames at Sea" The campy off-Broadway musical that introduced Bernadette Peters was filmed as a 60-minute NBC special by Martin Charnin and Walter C. Miller,  with Ann-Margret in the Peters role. Anne Meara, Ann Miller, Dick Shawn, Harvey Evans and Fred Gwynne co-starred. Broadcast date: November 15, 1971.

"Meet Me in St.Louis" The estimable George Schafer directed - now get this - Jane Powell, Tab Hunter, Jeanne Crain, Myrna Loy, Lois Nettleton, Ed Wynn, Reta Shaw, Walter Pidgeon and Patty Duke, as Tootie, in this terrific version of the enduring Vincente Minnelli-Judy Garland original film musical. MGM and CBS collaborated for the occasion. Broadcast date: April 26, 1959.
"Brigadoon" The first of a trio of TV musicals, this one for ABC, starring Robert Goulet. Fielder Cook was on board again as director and Goulet's co-stars included Sally Anne Howes, Peter Falk and Marlyn Mason. Broadcast date: October 15, 1966.

"Carousel"  Goulet was well-cast as Billy Bigelow, opposite Mary Grover as Julie Jordan, in this ABC version directed by Paul Bogart. Broadcast Date: May 7, 1967.

"Kiss Me, Kate" Paul Bogart reteamed with Goulet and his then-wife Carol Lawrence for this ABC version of the Cole Porter classic. Jessica Walter, Michael Callan, Jules Munchin and Marty Ingels co-starred. Broadcast date: March 25, 1968.  George Schafer directed another TV version - for NBC - ten years earlier with most of the 1948 cast from the Broadway original, including stars Alfred Drake and Patricia Morrison. Julie Wilson, from the London production, replaced Lisa Kirk, the original Lois Lane/Bianca. Broadcast date: November 20, 1958.

"Annie Get Your Gun" Mary Martin played Annie Oakley to John Raitt's Frank Butler in Vincent J. Donehue's NBC version of the Irving Berlin musical. Broadcast date: October 28, 1957. (Doris Day and Robert Goulet - yes, Goulet again - recorded a Columbia album of the show's score in 1963, but despite what many assume, there was never a TV show attached to it.)

"Evening Primrose" An original Stephen Sondheim musical, written especially for ABC Stage 67 by playwright James Goldman from a short story by James Collier. Anthony Perkins starred opposite Charmian Carr (of "The Sound of Music") as a poet who lives clandestinely in a New York department story. (It was filmed at Stern Brothers Department Store on West 23rd Street by director Paul Bogart.) Broadcast date: November 16, 1966.

And, finally, getting back to "Peter Pan," there was another version - shown on NBC on December 12, 1976 and starring Mia Farrow as Peter and Danny Kaye as Captain Hook. It had a new score by by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse. And, of course, Allison Williams played Peter in yet another version for NBC - produced by Meron and Zadan. This was was a remake of the Mary Martin show from 60 years earlier. Broadcast date: December 4, 2014.

Notes in Passing: Meron and Zadan's TV output during the past two decades has been impressive, if hit-or-miss. Their resume includes the excellent (Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella"), the hugely disappointing (Bette Midler's "Gypsy") and the downright unwatchable (Matthew Broderick's "The Music Man"). During this period, there was one outstanding TV musical that they didn't produce - Gene Saks' "Bye Bye Birdie" starring Jason Alexander and Vanessa Williams which, unlike the 1963 theatrical film, preserved those qualities that made the show a hit on Broadway. Yet another TV version (announced years ago) is planned by Meron - that's if its star, Jennifer Lopez, ever finds the time to commit to it.

Regarding Comments: All comments are enthusiastically appreciated but are moderated before publication. Replies signed "unknown" or "anonymous" are not encouraged. Please sign any response with a name (real or fabricated) or initials.  Be advised that a "name" will be assigned to any accepted post signed "unknown" or "anonymous." Thank you.

(from top) 

 ~Director-choreographer Jerome Robbins takes flight with his star, Mary Martin, on the TV set of "Peter Pan"
~photography: NBC 1960© 

~Lee Remick as Lola in "Damn Yankees"
~photography: NBC 1967©

~Lesley Ann Warren as Lois Lane in  "It's a Bird ... It's a Plane ... It's Superman!"
~photography: ABC 1975©

~Laruren Bacall and company in "Applause"
~photography: Nederelander/Universal/CBS 1973©

~John Davidson, Susan Watson, Ricardo Montalban, Bert Lahr and Stanley Holloway in"The Fantasticks"
~photography: Hallmark Hall of Fame/NBC 1964©

~Ann-Margret in "Dames at Sea"
~photography: Bell System Family/NBC 1971©

~Jane Powell and Tab Hunter in "Meet Me in St. Louis"
~photography: MGM/CBS 1959©
~Robert Goulet and Carol Lawrence in "Kiss Me, Kate"
~photography: ABC 1968© 

~Anthony Perkins and Charmian Carr in "Evening Primrose"
 ~photography: ABC. 1966©

~Mia Farrow as Peter Pan
 ~photography: Hallmark Hall of Fame 1976©

~Robert Morse and E.J. Peaker in "That's Life"
 ~photography: ABC 1968©


Griff said...

While the 1958 Abbott/Donen movie of DAMN YANKEES! is quite good and preserves the definitive performances of Verdon and Walston as Lola and Applegate, the 1967 TV production is an excellent adaptation of the show. Lee Remick is great -- and clearly having a good time -- as a different kind of Lola and Phil Silvers' spin on Applegate is wonderful. It was nice to have "The Game" and other songs restored to the score.

It's a little modest and threadbare, but the Armstrong Circle Theatre production of BRIGADOON is very, very good; Goulet, Howes and Falk are perfectly cast.

ABC's STAGE '67 did a few interesting original musicals, including OLYMPUS 7-0000 with Donald O'Connor. An odd 1965 ABC musical special, THE DANGEROUS CHRISTMAS OF RED RIDING HOOD, with Liza Minnelli, Cyril Ritchard, Vic Damone and The Animals (!) has stuck in my mind for over forty years.

JAMES COBB said...

As I said before in a previous comment, our tastes are not the same. Some notes: The 55 and 56 telecasts of Mary Martin in PETER PAN are available on a VAI blu ray. All that remains are the kinescopes (basically a film camera photographing a tv monitor) for these shows, so technically they are not perfect. But the shows include the introductions and commercials from that period, which are fun to see. The 1960 was in color and on video tape and was what was seen regularly throughout the 1960's---an event comparable to the annual showings of THE WIZARD OF OZ. In terms of performance I think the 55 and 56 versions are better than the 60 version. Worth seeking out. I am glad that musicals are being done for tv again, even if I did not care for either version they did of SOUND OF MUSIC.... and I do like the stage version but to me the American one seemed poorly cast and the British was ineptly directed. I would agree with Griff that Stage '67 did some interesting things... it was a brave experiment by ABC. Wonder if the tv DAMNED YANKEES is available anywhere. As I recall there was also a version of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN on NBC with Ethel Merman, around the time it had a revival at Lincoln Center. Of course Merman was a bit old for the part by then.... some wags referred to it as GRANNY GET YOUR GUN. I do remember the BRIGADOON and CAROUSEL productions on ABC. I would agree that the Midler GYPSY was a huge disappointment. And yep--- I do remember TRAT'S LIFE. Peaker would of course go on to a supporting role in the film version of HELLO DOLLY and Morse was already a broadway legend. (I saw him onstage as Truman Capote and his turn on MAD MEN was a clever nod to HOW TO SUCCEED, especially his final appearance on the show). I'd like to see someone try doing PAL JOEY... the film version is OK but it jettisoned most of the best songs in the score and the darker and sexier original plot.

Sheryl Z said...

I guess I'm giving my age about but I remember just about all of these and I'm surprised that they were all shown only once and then disappeared. It seems like such a waste! I now have only vague recollections of them and wish someone would put them out on DVD. I'd like to see Lee Remick again in "Damn Yankees"in particular.

Billy from Philly said...

I recall a musical version of "Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" from the early 1970s starring Kirk Douglas. I remember watching it as a kid, but being disappointed it wasn't a straight horror movie. Now I'd love to see it again. I think Donald Pleasance was in it too.

tom bennett said...

I'm guessing a lot of these are held up by rights issues, but it would be great if they could see the light of day again. TVLand or HBO should try to get them all and do a "Musical of the Week" or something.

Kevin Barry said...

Great piece, Joe, on an obscure subject. I remember Carol Burnett appeared in two television versions of her stage musical One Upon a Mattress, 1964 and 1972. Also, do you recall The Honeymooners reboot series in the sixties as a series of original musicals?

Pamela West said...

A while back, I been read a book titled "All About 'All About Eve."' There was a section on "Applause." A young actress named Diane McAfee was originally cast as Eve, but during tryouts was deemed too sweet and non-threatening to be a believable foil for Lauren Bacall's Margo. McAfee was replaced by Penny Fuller.

Fun showbiz trivia: The bad news was delivered to McAfee by her boyfriend, Brandon Maggart, who was cast as the playwright (Hugh Marlowe's character in the film). He stayed with the show and got a Tony nomination. He also stayed with McAfee. They co-habitated for years and produced a daughter, noted singer-songwriter Fiona Apple.

Wow, I feel like Paul Harvey. "And now you know...the rest of the story." :)

Kiki said...

And wasn't there an "Anything Goes" with Ethel Merman (redoing Reno Sweeney) and Frank Sinatra? Still the best "musical" show I ever saw on TV was when Fred Astaire danced - and danced with Barrie Chase. In latter years, he said she was his best dance partner but maybe he had forgotten the rest by then.

joe baltake said...

Kiki- ! I love how Fred Astaire aged gracefully and yet was savvy enough to keep up with the times. His decision to make Barrie Chase his partner in the third act of his life remains terrific proof of that. She was unlike any of his previous (wonderful) partners – modern and funky and sexy and glamorous all at the same time – and, despite the age gap, they managed to match up perfectly. Astaire always had an old soul but never seemed old. The word “ageless” is overused but it definitely applies to him. Pairing with Barrie gave him just the right dash of youth and, in turn, this woman, this dish, seemed a tad more wordly and mature when she danced with him. -J

Barry Rivadue said...

Agree on The Music Man remake, with the most wretched period costumes in TV history, among other problems. Disagree though on Midler's "Gypsy," which I thought extremely good. What was so disappointing about it?

joe baltake said...

Hi Barry- What was disappointing? Midler herself. On paper, she seemed like perfect cast. But in performance, the opposite was true - for me, at least. She seemed too small for the role, not power-driving enough. And, vocally, she sounds more like Baby June than Madam Rose. The supporting cast also leaves a lot to be desired and the production itself looks threadbare, very much like a made-for-TV movie. -J

Peter Lappin said...

I'm late to the party, but Ann Sothern was a fetching Liza Elliott in a 1954 NBC production of "Lady in the Dark." There's a CD of just the music (available on Amazon, natch) and I own a bootleg copy of the video (kinescope I assume). Ann is perfect for the part and Carleton Carpenter is wonderful in the role originally played on Broadway by Danny Kaye (and made him a star). Puts the dreary Ginger Rogers movie version to shame.