Musicals on Television: 1966-1969
by John Kenrick
(Copyright 1996 & 2003)
(Thanks to Robert Barto and Michael Porter for contributing to the list below.)
Alice in Wonderland (or What's A Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?)
(ABC) March 30, 1966
Music by Charles Strouse, Lyrics by
Voices by Sammy Davis Jr., Harvey Korman, Bill Dana, ZaZa Gabor, Hedda Hopper
A witty animated version of the Lewis Carroll classic with some excellent songs and more than a touch of camp. When Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble appear as a two-headed caterpillar singing the vaudeville-style "They'll Never Split Us Apart," its a riot. The story holds up well amid all the hilarity. A soundtrack recording was released on LP.
(CBS) Sept. 1966 - January 1967
Songs by Jerry Bresler and Lyn Duddy
Cast: Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Sheila MacRae, Jane Kean
As part of his weekly CBS variety series, Gleason produced ten hour-long musicals featuring Ralph Kramden and his beloved Honeymooners cohorts. The Kramdens and Nortons win an all expenses paid vacation (by writing a slogan for Flakey Wakey breakfast cereal), and proceed to sing and dance their way through every major European country -- with an African safari thrown in. Bresler and Duddy provided melodic, amusing original songs for each episode -- an amazing accomplishment. These episodes were tremendous fun, and were so well received that they inspired Gleason to produce 32 more new Honeymooners episodes over the next three years.
I met Lyn Duddy years later, and he was delighted to learn that someone still recalled some of the fine tunes he composed for this series. Released on DVD, these do not eclipse the glorious original Honeymooners episodes, but still offer a load of silly fun.
(ABC) Nov. 28, 1966
Songs by Richard Adler
Cast: Donald O'Connor, Phyllis Newman, Eddie Foy Jr.,
Larry Blyden, Lou Jacobi, Joe Namath and the NY Jets
The Greek god Hermes (O'Connor) is summoned to assist a struggling college football coach. The composer of Broadway's Damn Yankees was unable to do for football what he did for baseball, but viewers got to enjoy star quarterback Namath at the height of his popularity.
(ABC) October 15, 1966
Music by Frederick Loewe
Book & Lyrics by Alan J. Lerner
Cast: Robert Goulet, Sally Ann Howes, Peter Falk,
Not as good as the cast might lead you to believe. Goulet gave a pretty self-indulgent performance in the lead, but was still entertaining.
The Canterville Ghost
(ABC Stage '67) Nov. 2, 1966
Music by Jerry Bock, Lyrics by
Based on the Oscar Wilde story
Cast: Michael Redgrave (The Ghost), Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Peter Noone
The composer and lyricist of Fiorello and Fiddler on the Roof did very nicely in their one score for TV. My parents were uneasy about letting their six year old watch a ghost story, but I enjoyed it. To my knowledge, never re-run and a pity too, because the score is good and Redgrave is delicious as the ghost. Critics were very hard on this at the time, so my childhood memory may be faulty.
Alice Through The Looking Glass
(NBC) November 6, 1966
Music by Moose Charlap, Lyrics by Elsie Simmons
Cast: Robert Coote, Jimmy Durante, Nanette Fabray,
Jack Palance (The Jabberwock), Agnes Moorehead, Ricardo Montalban, The Smothers
Brothers (Tweedledum & Tweedledee)
A decent score, but this production stood out thanks to a sensational all-star cast and a book that stayed close to the original Lewis Carroll story line. There was a soundtrack album and the show was rebroadcast once or twice.
(ABC - Stage 67) November 16, 1966
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Teleplay by James Goldman (based on a story by James Collier)
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Charmain Carr, Dorothy Stickney, Larry Gates
This bizarre tale of hermits who live in a department store at night was not well received, but Sondheim (in his only TV musical) provided interesting songs. "I Remember" was later heard in the stage revue Side By Side By Sondheim and has since been popular with cabaret performers. Sadly, this was broadcast at 10 PM, which was way past my bedtime in those days. The CD studio version starring Neil Patrick Harris verifies what a fine score this is.
On The Flip Side
(ABC Stage '67) Dec. 7, 1966
Music by Burt Bacharach, Lyrics by Hal David
Cast: Ricky Nelson, Joanie Sommers
This tale of a rock star down on his luck getting his career revived by an angel had a rock score. I vaguely remember this as pleasant but unremarkable.
Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas
(CBS) Dec. 18, 1966
Directed by Chuck Jones
Music by Albert Hague and Eugene Poddany
Script & Lyrics by Theodore Suess Geisel
Voices: Boris Karloff, Thurl Ravenscroft, June Foray
Arguably the most popular TV cartoon special of all time brought together the wit of Suess with with voices of Frankenstein's monster (Karloff) and TV's 'Tony the Tiger' (Ravenscroft). The results brought the story of a Christmas-hating curmudgeon to joyous life. Rebroadcast every year for more than three decades, it eventually inspired a successful (but not nearly as delicious) big screen version, and a popular but ever so tacky Broadway musical.
Jack and the Beanstalk
(CBS) Dec. 19, 1966
Songs by Jim Eiler & Jeanne Bargy
Book by Jim Eiler
Cast: Joan Roberts, Hal Holden (Jack), Fred Grades, Bob Lussier, Robert Dagny,
Will B. Able
The classic fairy tale was told with great style and wit by The Prince Street Players, who specialized in children's musicals written with enough humor and style to amuse adults. This was the first of several superb musicals this group presented on CBS in the late 1960s. As a youngster, I adored them all. The songs were catchy (I still remember the tongue-in-cheek "Oh, Them Golden Eggs!"), the script amusing, and the performers were first-rate. Standouts included the tall and limber company comedian Will B. Able as the Giant, and Joan Roberts (Broadway's original Laurie in Oklahoma) as Jack's mother. Performance rights for these Prince Street musicals are now available for amateur groups -- I just wish home video versions were offered to!
Jack and the Beanstalk
(NBC) Feb. 26, 1967
Songs by Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen
Cast: Gene Kelly, Bobby Riha (Jack)
Kelly produced, directed and starred in this Emmy-winning version of the classic fairy tale using live action and animation. I remember enjoying it immensely at the tender age of six. The Cahn-Van Heusen score was, of course, tuneful & classy. I'd love to see an archival re-run or home video release of this one.
I'm Getting Married
(ABC) March 16, 1967
Music by Jule Styne
Lyrics by Betty Comden &
Cast: Anne Bancroft & Dick Shawn
How could such a stellar team go wrong? Well, they did. A soon to be wed couple express their fears and fantasies about what the future may bring. Performed cabaret style with two-piano accompaniment, most critics felt that this game attempt simply did not work. In their many concert appearances, Comden and Green did not try to reprise any of this score which suggests even they took little delight in it.
Annie Get Your Gun
(NBC) March 19, 1967
Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin
Cast: Ethel Merman, Bruce Yarnell,
The cast of the acclaimed 1966 Lincoln Center revival taped this socko performance, with Merman having a blast in the lead. (Hey somebody, dig this one up and put it on DVD/home video!)
(ABC) May 7, 1967
Songs by Richard Rodgers and
Oscar Hammerstein II
Cast: Robert Goulet, Mary Grover, Marilyn
Mason, Patricia Neway, Pernell Roberts
Second rate in many departments, particularly Goulet's sloppy performance. The highlight is Ms. Neway (Broadway's original Mother Abbess in Sound of Music) singing "You'll Never Walk Alone." A soundtrack recording was released.
The Emperor's New Clothes
(CBS) Sept. 4, 1967
Songs by Jim Eiler & Jeanne Bargy
Book by Jim Eiler
Cast: Jim Eiler (Emperor Maximillian the Most), Jeanne Bargy (Carlotta the Least),
Robert Dagny (Sinister the Prime Minister), Fred Graves, Vicki Morales, Marcie
Stringer, Will B. Able
This version by New York's Prince Street Players was one of the finest children's musicals ever broadcast. The script and performances were hilarious, and the songs were great including "Stitch and Sew" and "You Gotta Blow Your Own Trumpet." Robert Dagny was a hoot as Sinister the Prime Minister! I've known any number of Broadway hits that were not half as witty or melodic. Oh, what I would give for the whole Prince Street series to be rebroadcast or available on video!
Who's Afraid of Mother Goose?
(CBS) Oct. 13, 1967
Music: Sherman Edwards
Lyrics: Ruth Batchelor
Choreography by Peter Gennaro
Cast: Maureen O'Hara, Peter Gennaro, Franki Avalon, Nancy Sinatra, Margaret
Hamilton, Dick Shawn, Dan Rowan and Dick Martin
When a school administrator tries to ban Mother Goose books from classrooms because he feels the characters set poor examples, Mother Goose herself appears and turns him into a child. She then takes him through her stories to meet the characters, proving they are not so bad. A promising idea, but not well received by most critics. To my knowledge, this is the only other musical with a score by the composer of 1776.
(ABC) October 24, 1967
Cast: Jose Ferrer, Anna Maria Alberghetti, George Chakiris
Ferrer considered himself a singer, and while he had a passable baritone, he was not quite up to the vocal challenge of playing Hadj.
Cast: Phil Silvers, Lee Remick, Jerry Lanning, Fran Allison, Linda Lavin
The budget was so tight that most of the ball players were cardboard cutouts (no, I am NOT kidding), and the sets were minimalistic. However, the casting of Silvers as the demonic Applegate was inspired. A Musicals101 visitor wrote in to say that Lee Remick as Lola was "so damned sexy, and sang so well, that by the end of the show my voice deepened and I had grown facial hair." Bargan basement as it may be, I can't help wishing that an archival copy of this one would make it to home video.
Androcles and the Lion
(NBC) November 15, 1967
Music and Lyrics by Richard Rodgers
Book by Peter Stone (Adapted from Bernard Shaw's original play)
Directed by Joe Layton
Cast: Norman Wisdom (Androcles), Noel Coward
(The Emperor), Ed Ames, Inga Swenson, John Cullum,
Clifford David, Patricia Routledge, Geoffrey Holder
Noel Coward appearing in a Richard Rodgers musical? A fascinating prospect, but as it turned out no one was really satisfied with the results. The critics found it competent but unexciting, and both Rodgers and Coward agreed. The score is forgotten even the many revues of Rodgers' work have all skipped this one. Pity, because what I remember of it was quite enjoyable. To my knowledge it has never been re-broadcast.
(CBS) Dec. 6, 1967
Songs by Jim Eiler & Jeanne Bargy
Book by Jim Eiler
Cast: Fred Graves, Will B. Able, Don Liberto, Avril Gentles, Vicki Morales, David Lile,
Another in the wonderful Prince Street Players CBS series, this one was staged using traditional Chinese stage techniques. Innovative and entertaining, it had a first-rate cast with Will B. Able a standout as the loveable genie of the lamp. "Lovely Morning in China" and "In The Wink of an Eye" were highlights of the Broadway-quality score.
The Legend of Robin Hood
(NBC) Feb. 18, 1968
Music by James Van Heusen
Lyrics by Sammy Cahn
Script by Harry Kleiner
Cast: Noel Harrison, Roddy McDowall, Lee Berry, David Watson, Victor Buono,
Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Walter Slezak, Bruce Yarnell
A fine cast and melodic score made this a very enjoyable version of the swashbuckling tales of swordplay and romance in Sherwood Forest.
Kiss Me Kate
(ABC) March 25, 1968
Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
Cast: Robert Goulet, Carol
Lawrence, Jessica Walter
Didn't see this one the casting of a real-life husband and wife in the leads is intriguing. The soundtrack recording has a few too many attempts to "update" the songs with 1960s rock-flavored arrangements, but Goulet's black velvet baritone provides a few lovely moments.
(ABC) Sept. 24, 1968 to May 20, 1969
(Tuesdays at 10PM)
Musical Director: Elliot Lawrence
Cast: Robert Morse, E.J. Peaker, Shelley Berman,
Kay Medford, Tony Mordente Dancers
The only attempt so far at a weekly musical comedy TV series. That's Life involved the courtship and early married years of a young couple played by Morse and Peaker. There were six songs in each hour long episode, with a mixture of existing hits and new numbers. One of the guest stars was Liza Minnelli. This series was well received by the critics but only drew moderate ratings. In 1990, the short-lived Cop Rock would attempt weekly musical drama.
(NBC) Nov. 6, 1969
Music by Jerome Kern
Lyrics by Otto Harbach
Bob Hope, Michelle Lee, John Davidson, and Janis Paige
Michael Porter has found listings for this broadcast. One of Hope's "Comedy Hour" specials, it was an updated version of his 1933 Broadway hit.
Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates
(NBC) December 14, 1969
Music and Lyrics by Moose Charlap
Cast included Eleanor Parker, Richard Basehart &
Filmed on location in Holland, this handsome production still shows up on TV from time to time. The script is mostly stodgy and forgettable, except for one delectable sequence where Hans and his uncouth teen companions stay at an inn owned by persnickety Cyril Ritchard. Ritchard tries to teach the boys "Proper Manners," a wonderful musical moment. My advice is to catch a rerun of this one on your VCR and fast-forward to Ritchard's showstopper.
The Little Drummer Boy
(NBC) Dec. 19, 1968
New Music by Maury Laws
New Lyrics by Jules Bass
Voices included Greer Garson, Jose Ferrer and the Vienna Boys Choir
A charming dramatization of the popular Christmas song, with a boy playing "pa-rumpa-pum-pum" on his drum for the newborn Christ. Good claymation, Ferrer sings the amusing "When the Goose is Hanging High," and no less than the Vienna Boys Choir handles the title tune. Rebroadcast annually, this show has also been released on home video.
The Littlest Angel
(NBC) Dec. 6, 1969
Songs by Lan O'Kun
Directed by Joe Layton
Cast: Johnnie Whitaker, Fred Gwynne, Cab Calloway, Connie Stevens, Tony Randall,
James Coco, George Rose, E.G. Marshall
A shepherd boy finds it hard to be heaven's littlest angel, but when he offers his boyhood box of treasures to the baby Jesus, God is so pleased by the humble gift that he turns it into the star of Bethlehem. Whitaker (who was then starring in the hit sitcom Family Affair) played the title role with great charm. Gwynne (known to my generation as Herman Munster) was a heartwarming standout as the boy's bumbling guardian angel, with Randall a stuffy hoot as one of his winged superiors. The all-star cast clearly had a blast, and the show set a ratings record for the Hallmark Hall of Fame series.