Musicals on Television: 1956-1957
Compiled by John Kenrick
(Copyright 1996 & 2003)
Special thanks to Roy Perkins and Lee Bridges for contributing details on several forgotten broadcasts for this page.
Paris in the Springtime
(NBC) Jan. 21, 1956
Script by William Friedberg and Neil Simon
Cast: Dan Dailey, Helen
Gallagher, Gale Sherwood, Carlton Carpenter and
When the rights to another project fell through, NBC quickly threw together this tale of Americans falling in love in Paris -- using existing songs and some top-notch performers. Critics were not impressed.
I Love Lucy: Lucy Goes to Scotland(CBS) Feb. 20, 1956
Directed by James V. Kern
Music by Eliot Daniel
Lyrics by Larry Orenstein
Cast: Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, William Frawley, Larry Orenstein, John Gustafson, John Hynd, Robert E. Hamlin, Ann Ellen Walker, Norma Zimmer, Betty Noyes, Dick Byron, Chuck Schrouder, Betty Allen
In a mini-musical dream sequence, Lucy dreams of her ancestry as a MacGillicuddy. We get Lucy and Ricky in kilts (he struggles with a Scottish accent?), while Fred and Ethel appear as a two-headed dragon. A nice bit of campy silliness, and loads of fun for Lucille Ball fans.
Bloomer Girl(NBC) May 28, 1956
Music by Harold Arlen, Lyrics by
E. Y. Harburg
Book by Fred Saidy and Sig Herzig
Adapted for television by Leslie Stevens
Choreography by Agnes DeMille
Produced and Directed by Alex Segal
Cast: Barbara Cook, Keith Andes, Paul Ford, Carmen
Cook headed a well-chosen cast -- Keith Andes would later display his good looks and solid baritone in Lucille Ball's Broadway tuner Wildcat. DeMille recreated her original dances from the Broadway production, including the acclaimed "Civil War Ballet." Pirate copies of this broadcast are not too hard to find. If you don't know Bloomer Girl, this polished production will be a pleasant surprise.
(CBS) March 10, 1956
Music by Arthur Schwartz &
Lyrics by Maxwell Anderson
Produced by Arthur Schwartz
Cast: Bing Crosby (Van Van Dorn),
Julie Andrews (Lise), Nancy Olsen
What a marvelous line-up of talent! Crosby played a man obsessed with a mountain ("tor" in Dutch) on his property in upstate New York. He falls in love with a Dutch ghost (Andrews) who has haunted the mountain for 300 years. Eventually, Crosby realizes their love is doomed and returns to his fiance (Olsen) a sort of reverse Brigadoon. At $300,000, High Tor was the most expensive TV production up to that time, and the first special filmed for broadcast by CBS. A rare album exists, and there are some charming songs in the score. It got a so-so critical reception. (Fun trivia note: this originally aired just five days before Julie opened on Broadway in My Fair Lady, a show authored by Nancy Olsen's then-husband Alan Jay Lerner.)
The Adventures of Marco Polo
(NBC) April 14, 1956
Music by Clay Warnick & Mel Pahl
Lyrics by Edward Eager
Book by William Friedberg & Neil Simon
Cast: Alfred Drake,
The original leads from Broadway's Kismet starred here, with a score based on themes by Rimsky-Korsakov. The story was loosely inspired by the explorer who opened China to the West. It was well received, and Columbia released a LP of the score.
A Bell for Adano
(CBS) June 2, 1956
Music by Arthur Schwartz,
Lyrics by Howard Dietz
Cast: Anna Maria Alberghetti, Barry Sullivan
Schwartz & Dietz musicalized John Hersey's popular novel about American troops occupying an Italian village during World War II.
(NBC) June 9, 1956
Music Adapted from Johann Strauss
Lyrics by Edward Eager
Cast: Doretta Morrow, Keith Andes, Kitty Carlisle, Bambi
Lynn, Tammy Grimes, George S. Irving,
Based loosely on Elmer Rice's play The Grand Tour, the plot involved a New England schoolteacher who falls in love with a married embezzling banker during a trip to Europe. In the end she uses her inheritance to cover his crime and then sends him back to his wife. Despite the distinguished cast (Morrow was having a busy year - see Marco Polo above), few recall this production.
(NBC) July 15, 1956
Music and Lyrics by Steve Allen
Cast: Hal March, Jayne Mansfield, Carol Haney, Julie Wilson and Peter Gennaro
March (who hosted The $64,000 Question) played an executive who juggles three mistresses at once until he realizes he loves his secretary (Haney). The score by popular TV host Steve Allen got solid reviews.
(NBC) July 23, 1956
Based on Die Fledermaus
Music by Johann Strauss II
Cast: Cyril Ritchard, Jean Fenn
(NBC) Oct. 27, 1956
Music and Lyrics by Gordon Jenkins
Cast: Helen OConnell, Peter Marshall, Phil Harris, Edward Everett
Horton, Cesar Romero, Ethel Waters, Hans Conried,
Musicals101 visitor Roy Perkins brought this one to our attention. It was a collection of vignettes depicting the everyday drama of life in New York City. No less than four recordings of the score were released none using the TV cast. The most popular version was an album by pop idol Patti Page.
Jack and the Beanstalk
Music by Jerry Livingstone
Book and Lyrics by Helen Deutsch
(NBC) Nov. 12, 1956
Cast: Joel Grey, Celeste
Holm, Cyril Ritchard, Billy Gilbert and
Jack was portrayed by young Joel Grey, a full decade before his Broadway triumph in Cabaret. The reviews were poor, but the ratings set a record.
Music and Lyrics by Frank Luther
(CBS) Nov. 21, 1956
Cast: John Sharpe, Jimmy Boyd
This song-packed version of Twain's classic was so popular it led to a musical version of The Adventures of Huck Finn a year later.
High Button Shoes
(NBC) Nov. 24, 1956
Music by Jule Styne, Lyrics by
Cast: Nanette Fabray, Hal March, Don Ameche
The delightful Fabray repeated her Broadway role. Although I have not seen this one, it must have lost something without the show's original comic star, Phil Silvers.
The Stingiest Man in Town
(NBC) Dec. 23, 1956
Music by Fred Spielman
Book & Lyrics by Janice Torre
Cast: Basil Rathbone, Johnny Desmond, Vic Damone, Patrice Munsel, Robert Weede,
Martyn Green, Betty Madigan and The Four Lads
One of the best original scores written for network TV, and one of the best musical versions of the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol. An all-star cast of top Broadway, opera and pop talents make the most of the witty, melodic and sometimes ravishing songs. Rathbone is a fine Scrooge, and his supporting cast includes some of the best singers of the day. Originally broadcast in color, the long-lost black and white kinescope is available on DVD, and despite occasional technical problems (inevitable in a live broadcast), is a delight to watch. The cast and score sound even better on the soundtrack album, a prized collector's LP that has become available on CD. A cheesy 1978 animated remake did this fine material no justice.
Ruggles of Red Gap(NBC) Feb. 3, 1957
Music by Jule Styne
Lyrics by Leo Robin
Cast: Michael Redgrave, Jane Powell,
David Wayne, Imogene Coca, Peter Lawford,
Harry Leon Wilson's classic comedy makes a charming musical as a British butler finds himself confronting Mid-western Americans and their customs. A 1980s album release of this score by STET brought renewed interest in the score. Redgrave had a fine singing voice, and Powell, Wayne and Coca delight in their turns here. Some delightful songs, one of which ("I'm In Pursuit of Happiness") would later be re-written as Gypsy's "You'll Never Get Away From Me." "A Ride On A Rainbow" became an underground classic on the cabaret circuit the whole Styne-Robin score is a treat.
(CBS) March 31, 1957
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein
Cast: Julie Andrews, Jon Cypher, Edith Adams,
Kaye Ballard, Alice Ghostley, Ilka Chase, Howard Lindsay, Dorothy Stickney
The only musical written for television that has merited two TV re-makes (1964 & 1998) as well as major stage productions -- but then, it is also the only TV musical with a score by Rodgers & Hammerstein. Andrews is perfect as Cinderella, while Ballard and Ghostley have a blast as the stepsisters. Future TV star Jon Cypher is handsome but otherwise inly okay as the Prince, and the real life couple of Lindsay and Stickney recall their legendary Life With Father stage chemistry as the cuddly King & Queen.
The surviving kinescope (a technical film never intended for viewing) of the telecast is missing a few sections. There is a complete (and equally enjoyable) kinescope of the dress rehearsal, which has several different features it seems R&H managed to slip in a few last minute re-writes. Because it was not properly filmed, it could not be rebroadcast but its one-time showing had an estimated audience of 107 million, which meant almost every television in the United States had tuned in. The endearing R&H score includes "In My Own Little Corner," "Ten Minutes Ago," "Stepsister's Lament," and "Do I Love You." Note: while the kinescopes are in black and white, this was broadcast in color for the few who had it. Available on DVD, and well worth seeing.
The Yeoman of the Guard(NBC) April 10, 1957
Music: Arthur Sullivan
Lyrics: William Gilbert
Cast: Barbara Cook, Alfred
Drake, Celeste Holm, Bill Hayes
Broadway royalty starred in this abbreviated version of Gilbert & Sullivan's classic.
A Man's Game(NBC) April 23, 1957
Score by Jack & Madeline Segal
Choreography by Robert Joffrey
Cast: Nanette Fabray, Gene Nelson, Paul Ford,
Bibi Osterwald, Fred Gwynne
Chaos ensues in the locker room when a baseball team signs up a female pitcher. The team wives (as well as the pitcher's husband) threaten revolt until she gives up her job because she is pregnant how 1950s can you get?!
He's For Me(NBC) July 21, 1957
Songs by Michael Brown
Cast: Jane Kean, Roddy McDowall, Larry Blyden,
Decades before Friends, two young men fall in love with the two young ladies who live in the apartment across the hall.
(CBS) Oct. 9, 1957
Music: Lee Pockriss
Book and Lyrics: Anne Croswell
Cast: Edward Mulhare, Martyn Green, Dorothy Collins
This hour-long adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest was so well-received that the authors expanded it into a successful full-length off-Broadway musical called Earnest in Love three years later. The score is delicious, and the casting of this TV version suggests it was in good hands.
(NBC) Oct. 13, 1957
Music by Alec Wilder, Lyrics by William Engvick
Cast: Mickey Rooney (Pinocchio), Walter Slezak
(Gepetto), Fran Allison (Fairy)
The classic fairy tale with an interesting cast. Musicals101 visitors have written in with warm memories of this telecast, and of Rooney's performance.
The Adventures of Huck Finn
(CBS) November 20, 1957
Score by Frank Luther, Ann Croswell & Lee Pockriss
Cast: Jimmy Boyd, Earle Hyman, Basil Rathbone, Jack Carson, Florence Henderson
Imagine trying to cram this mammoth story into a mere 60 minutes while leaving time for commercials! Impressive cast, but not a critical winner.
The Pied Piper of Hamlin
(NBC) November 26, 1957
Songs by Hal Stanley and Irving Taylor
Cast: Van Johnson, Kay Starr, Claude Rains, Jim Backus
All the dialogue is in clumsy rhyme and the songs are uninspired adaptations of classical melodies by Edvard Grieg, many of which were far better served in Broadway's Song of Norway. An aging but game Claude Rains looks silly prancing about in tights (The Invisible Man dancing?), Jim Backus shamelessly camps it up as a foppish royal emissary, and Van Johnson does the best anyone could with such dull material. The shocker is that this was the only TV musical production actually released to a few theatres. Despite its faults, this show was remembered. Over a decade later on TV's Batman, Van Johnson offered an almost identical performance as "The Minstrel," a villain who spoke in rhyme.
Annie Get Your Gun
NBC Nov. 27, 1957
Music & Lyrics by Irving Berlin
Cast: Mary Martin, John
Raitt, William ONeal, Reta Shaw
Martin & Raitt finished off a successful national tour of Annie Get Your Gun with this broadcast, and a good time was had by all. You might not think Martin was a likely successor to Merman, but this Texas native is sensational as Oakley. If you can dig up a pirate copy, its well worth seeing. (The Raitt-Martin cast album is on CD but suffers from major cuts in the score.)
(CBS) December 20, 1957
Music by Burton Lane, Lyrics by
Cast: Don Ameche, Carol Lynley, Jill St. John
A stellar songwriting team makes this one worthy of mention. Yet another take on the misunderstood teenager dealing with a well-intentioned father and a nasty older sibling an old hat plot, even in 1957.