Musicals on Television:
Note: Thanks to Robert Barto, Bruce Olsen fand Lee Bridges for contributing forgotten items to the list below.
Around the World With Nellie Bly
Inspired by the real-life travels of a celebrated 1800s female newspaper columnist, this one was a bit too similar to the big-screen spectacle Around the World in 80 Days. The versatile Wilde played five roles in the course of sixty minutes.
Produced by Martyn Green (longtime comic lead of the D'Oyly Carte troupe), this installment of the Bell Telephone Hour had a knockout cast. The cast album suggests it was a mixed but fascinating bag of performances. Groucho, a lifelong G&S fan, was a standout.
So Help Me, Aphrodite
Fabray plays a truck-stop waitress who fills her dreary days with Walter Mitty-style fantasies before accepting the real-life love of her long-suffering boss.
This adaptation of Lost Horizon flopped on Broadway in 1956, so it seems odd that the prestigious Hallmark series gave it an airing. There are some fine Warren melodies, but the show can't begin to compare with Frank Capra's classic film. In short, a bad idea. The Burt Bacharach & Hal David 1973 big-screen musical of the same story would be far bigger, far more expensive, and far worse idea.
The birth of a child on Christmas Eve revives the holiday spirit among miners during the 1840s Gold Rush. Hines and DiGiuseppi came from the Metropolitan Opera, Neway was appearing as the original Mother Abbess in Sound of Music, and Douglass had been the young Joe in Damn Yankees.
An Irish immigrant rescues a lost leprechaun, makes his fortune and wins the hand of his beloved. Sounds promising, but critics were not impressed.
The Happiest Day
An angel helps a girl find romance with her boss. (For this she needed an angel?)
Written "for ABC and the Mars Candy Company," this was based on Nathaniel Hawthorne's story of the same name. An album was released, so you can still hear the score -- not a classic, but pleasant.
A lonely boy learns his beloved playmate Tippy-Top is imaginary. Howard (who was then appearing as Opie on The Andy Griffith Show) is the only Academy-Award winning director who can say he stared in a TV musical.
Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol (Animated)
What a wonderful show! The nearsighted Magoo opens on Broadway in a stage version of A Christmas Carol that is (aside from rearranging the order of the Christmas spirits) faithful to Dickens. Magoo's trademark slapstick bits are reserved for humorous backstage scenes -- the main plot is served up straight, with excellent results. Styne & Merrill's score is delicious. Scrooge's "Ringle Jingle," the Cratchit's "We'll Have the Brightest Christmas," the luscious ballad "Winter Was Warm," and the raucous "We're Despicable" all are pure Broadway gold. Re-run annually and available on home video, this is arguably the best TV version of this Dickens classic.
The Dick Van Dyke Show: The Alan Brady Show
In a Christmas episode, Dick and his co-workers step from behind the scenes to appear on their boss's TV program. An all-too rare chance for the many musical theater talents in this cast to strut their stuff. Special highlight: "I Am a Fine Musician."
Burnett's delightful Broadway hit, with most of the original cast intact. Many forget that Gould (a new addition to the cast) was originally a musical comedy performer he's a hoot as the minstrel. A revised version with a new book and several of the same cast members was broadcast in 1972.
Return to Oz
Dorothy goes back to Oz to save her friends from the resurrected Wicked Witch of the West. Uninspired, but there was a big screen project using a very similar theme several years later.
Astaire played a dancing record executive trying to sign up a star comedian. Critics were not enthusiastic about this one.
Off-Broadway's longest running musical got an incomparable cast for this Hallmark Hall of Fame version. Done with great style, but some bizarre changes -- all because the show had to fit into an NBC- TV time slot. The "Old Player" and Mortimer are gone, as are some favorite songs, but overall this production is worth seeing. Every cast member has memorable moments, and Bert Lahr in particular is (as always) a comic treasure.
The Story of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
Inspired by the hit Johnny Marks song of the same name, this is the most popular (and lasting) Christmas special ever to come from network television. The clay animation still looks good, and the story and score have charmed several generations of children and adults. What great songs! "Holly Jolly Christmas" became a holiday classic, but the touching "There's Always Tomorrow" never got the popularity it deserved. Every voice is just right -- as the Snowman who narrates the tale, Burl Ives is irresistible.
Rudolph was eventually picked up by CBS, and has been re-broadcast every year since its acclaimed debut. A TV sequel where Rudolph saves "Baby New Year" (1976) proved forgettable, as did a third show (1979) that teamed the red-nosed wonder with Frosty the Snowman. A 1998 big-screen cartoon musical using the same title tune was pure trash. For millions of fans, the 1964 TV special is still the only Rudolph that matters.
Richard Rodgers produced this color remake. The sometimes satirical slant of the original 1957 telecast is replaced by a more traditional fairy-tale approach. The special effects look dated and the video editing is not up to today's standards, but the overall effect is still delightful. Warren is fresh and believable, Damon is the perfect prince, Holm is at her most endearing as the Fairy Godmother, and Pat Carroll & Barbara Ruick are hilarious as the stepsisters their "Lament" is a riot. The R&H score is a beaut, with the addition of "Loneliness of Evening" (a South Pacific dropout) for the Prince.
This version was rebroadcast annually into the 1970s as a child I looked forward to it each year. When it proved popular on the Disney cable channel in the late 1980s, it was released on home video and became an immediate bestseller. The straightforward approach and excellent casting keep it thoroughly entertaining today, and the score is well-served. Whatever its technical limitations, this version is artistically miles above the ghastly 1997 ABC remake.
The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding
The classic fairy tale is re-told from the Wolf's point of view. Ritchard has a comic field day as the wolf, and it's a rare chance to see the young, pre-chemical Liza in action. Their "Ding-A-Ling" duet (with Ritchard in Granny drag) is a camp delight, and Vic Damone (as a warbling woodsman who's really a prince) has the endearing ballad "You'll Need A Song."
Styne & Merrill provided a Broadway-quality score, and the forgettable rock group "The Animals" are not on long enough to harm the fun. Only re-run once or twice, the show was released on home video in 1990. Great fun for theatre buffs, and savvy kids will enjoy it as a child, I thought it was fantastic. A soundtrack LP was released and is now considered highly collectable.
New York's Prince Street Players took a warm and witty look at this classic fairy tale. The first of several Prince Street productions adapted for CBS in the 60s, it had a fresh cast and a delightful score. More of this delightful series is covered on the pages that follow.
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