Musicals on Television: 1958-1959
Compiled by John Kenrick
(Copyright 1996 & 2003)
Special thanks to Roy Perkins and Bruce Olsen for contributing details on forgotten broadcasts for this page!
Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates
(NBC) Feb. 9, 1958
Music & Lyrics by Hugh Martin
Musical Direction by Franz Allers
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Cast: Tab Hunter, Peggy King, Basil Rathbone, Carmen Matthews, Sheila Smith,
An impressive line-up of talent, including Olympic ice champion (and future ABC sports commentator) Dick Button. The ice sequences got more attention than the songs, but the show was a tremendous ratings success.
(CBS) February 21, 1958
Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
Book by S.J. Perelman
Directed by Ralph Nelson
Cast: Cyril Ritchard, Dennis King, Sal Mineo,
Anna Maria Alberghetti, Basil Rathbone,
Una Merkel, George Hall
An impressive cast, but despite a few magical moments Cole Porter's last score is far from his best. The cast recording has long been a collectible, and was released on CD Ritchard was, as always, a joy. Ill-advised attempts to adapt this work to the stage have not gotten far.
The Red Mill
(CBS) April 19, 1958
Music by Victor Herbert
Cast: Shirley Jones,
Herbert's 1903 musical comedy hit, with two delightful performers -- wish I had seen this.
Hansel and Gretel
(NBC) April 27, 1958
Music by Alec Wilder
Lyrics by William Engvick
Cast: Red Buttons (Hansel), Barbara Cook
(Gretel), Rise Stevens (Mother), Rudy Valee
(Father), Stubby Kaye (Town Crier), Hans
Conried (Witch), Paula Laurence (Meenie)
As all-star as a cast can get, but they could only do so much with weak material. There is a hard to find soundtrack recording narrated by Buttons. Although none of the tuneful (and often silly) songs have much connection to the plot, it is fun to hear this line up of musical veterans fly through it.
(CBS) October 16, 1958
Music & Lyrics by Richard Adler
Cast: Jeannie Carson, Rise Stevens, Florence Henderson, Bill Hayes
Part of a series Adler created for CBS including The Gift of the Magi (see below). Critics felt it was a mistake to try cramming so much plot into a 60 minute time frame, but the cast and score won praise. The cast LP is a prized collectible.
Kiss Me Kate
(NBC) Nov. 20,1958
Hallmark Hall of Fame
Music & Lyrics by Cole Porter
Cast: Patricia Morrison, Alfred Drake, Julie Wilson,
A sensational broadcast! Despite all the technical limitations of live television, this is a wonderful chance to see the original leads battle their way through Kiss Me Kate a treat for anyone who loves musicals. The campy period commercials only add to the fun. We also get to see the divine Julie Wilson long before her reign as a cabaret legend. If you ever get the chance to watch this (it has been shown on a few public television channels), don't miss it.
(CBS) Nov. 30, 1958
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics by Betty Comden &
Cast: Rosalind Russell
Russell starred in this adaptation of her hit Broadway musical. Fresh from her triumph in Auntie Mame, Roz was not at her best here. In fact, the whole broadcast is a disappointment. A so-so recording was released on CD -- stick to the original Broadway cast for listening pleasure.
Gift Of The Magi
(CBS) December 9, 1958
Music & Lyrics by Richard Adler
Cast: Sally Ann Howes, Gordon MacRae, Eli Wallach,
Based on the O. Henry tale of turn-of-the-century immigrants in love. Critics felt that the cast was strong and the songs good, but the book was weak. A rare LP preserves the score.
(NBC) Jan. 14, 1959
Cast: Tennessee Ernie Ford
Ford had a popular weekly variety series which he occasionally used to stage abbreviated musicals, with Ford playing the comic leads. This time, he played Sir Joseph Porter in Gilbert & Sullivan's nautical classic. This did well enough to merit a follow-up version of The Mikado on April 16th, with Ford as Ko-Ko.
Keep in Step
(CBS) Jan. 23, 1959
Music & Lyrics by Ronny Graham
Choreography by Jack Cole
Cast: Phil Silvers, Diana Dors, Sydney Chaplin, Paul Ford, Harvey Lembeck
This expanded episode in Silvers' popular Sargent Bilko comedy series involved the oily con man's attempts to stage a musical at Camp Fremont. At one point, the spoofing goes so far that someone suggests asking Phil Silvers to play Bilko!
No Man Can Tame Me
(CBS) Feb. 1, 1959
Music Jay Livingston & Ray Evans
Cast: Gisele MacKenzie, John Raitt, Eddie Foy,
A pleasant bit of Americana about a woman who rejects the wealthy town dandy in favor of a gorgeous trapper. Ms. MacKenzie was a major pop singer, and Raitt & Foy had co-starred in the stage and screen versions of Pajama Game.
Score and Libretto by Gian Carlo Menotti
Cast: Franca Duval, Patricia Neway, Richard Cross, William Chapman
After a brief five performance run on Broadway the year before, this tragic opera won a warm reception in this small screen version. A blind veteran develops an obsessive love for the wealthy but lonely Maria, and becomes convinced his only remedy is to shoot her.
Meet Me In St. Louis
(CBS) April 26, 1959
Music and Lyrics by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane
Cast: Jane Powell, Jeanne Crain, Tad Hunter,
Walter Pidgeon, Myrna Loy, Patty Duke and Ed Wynn
The classic 1944 MGM musical was remade for the small screen with a star-studded cast. The limitations of early TV production made it impossible to re-create the visual charm of the film, but these performers certainly did the material no harm.
A Diamond for Carla
(CBS) Sept. 14, 1959
Music by Sammy Fain
Lyrics by Paul Francis Webster
Cast: Anna Maria Alberghetti, Johnny Desmond, Robert Strauss
Romance on a Caribbean island is endangered by gossip when a well-meaning American tourist gives a young native bride a diamond as a wedding gift.
The Jazz Singer
(NBC) Oct. 13, 1959
Cast: Jerry Lewis
Ford Startime, an anthology series of variety and drama specials, featured Lewis in this abbreviated adaptation of Al Jolson's landmark talkie.
Once Upon a Christmas Time
(CBS) Dec. 9, 1959
Music by Robert Allen
Lyrics by Al Stillman
Book by A. J. Russell
Cast: Claude Rains, Margaret Hamilton, Kate Smith, Patty Duke, Charlie Ruggles
This sentimental tale of New England townspeople welcoming orphans into their homes for Christmas featured an ice solo by skating whiz Ronnie Robertson.