Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Paradise Refound

(Alfred Drake and Patricia Morison in the original Broadway production of "Kiss Me, Kate.")
We all have our own special hopes for that Paradise at the end of the tunnel. Muslims dream of virgins, boozers envision hangover-free Martini guisers, fatties fantasize about Godivas that slim the hips, and ponytailed rockers yearn for a Beatles reunion. Then there are those esoteric Mermanites weaned on Sondheim and cast albums who imagine the pearly gates as the entrance to the Alvin Theatre circa 1941.

In this Paradise Refound, Dante has given way to Cole Porter, and here the Broadway spectaculars, raped by Hollywood vulgarians, play in unmiked original-cast perpetuity. In the Art Deco lounge, the TV spectaculars that once delighted Aunt Flo have returned to again spread their kinescope ecstasies. If this be your impossible dream, light the candles and hop in your surrey with the fringe on top. For three musical holy grails have been unearthed and refurbished on DVD. Those of you who remember MGM's surprisingly well-made and faithful "Kiss Me Kate" in 1953 may think of its leads, Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel, as the equivalent of good, solid technicolor sirloin steak. Five years after the movie, the Hallmark Hall of Fame restored the show's original comma and Broadway leads. If caviar could sing and emote, it would be the performances that Patricia Morison and Alfred Drake gave on the television adaptation of this show in 1958, a decade after its Broadway premiere. Although sadly cut to 78 minutes, every moment reminds us of the delight that the archeologists must have felt when they found the glories that lay hidden for centuries in King Tut's Tomb. Aside from the two leads, we have jazz diva Julie Wilson's incorrigibly naughty take on Lois Lane singing "Tom, Dick or Harry" and Jack Klugman brushing up his Shakespeare a few months before he would join Merman in "Gypsy." Anyone raised on distant legends of Broadway sophistication will find this DVD a key to a lost civilization of giddy elegance.

On a more bizarre note, we have an unlikely meeting of three legends in a 1953 TV production of "Anything Goes." The idea of Frank Sinatra, the idol of saddle-shoed millions, ardently wooing Broadway's own belting Bruennhilde (Ethel Merman) with Porter-ish ardor seems surrealistic beyond the dreams of Groucho. Add to this Dorothy's own Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) joining his former "DuBarry Was a Lady" co-star for an interpolated performance of "Friendship." What we have here is the ultimate happy talk - a dream come true.

To top off our triumvirate, imagine a Sondheim-penned episode of "The Twilight Zone" populated by the original Mother in "Life With Father" (Dorothy Stickney), the cinematic Liesl from "The Sound of Music" (Charmian Carr) and a crooning Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). It's called "Evening Primrose," which aired once on ABC's Stage 67 in 1966. Needless to say, fascinating.

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