13 December, 2010

Advent Calendar in Song: 12 Days to Christmas

And now, a musical interlude:

My parents lived through the golden age of the Broadway musical. They saw the original casts of the Rodgers and Hammerstein, Kander and Ebb, Bock and Harnick, and Sondheim of course. Their collection of LP's could pretty much be divided in half between classical music, and broadway musicals. In retrospect they didn't seem to own any of the obvious crooners of their generation, such as Sinatra or Tony Bennett, perhaps they had their fill of that on radio or in live performance. Apart from Opera, which Mom tortured me with on the weekend afternoon radio broadcasts from the Met, I enjoyed all her music. With my much older siblings I got a good dose of the sixties, and so I've had a strong foundation for varied and eclectic musical taste.

While my siblings also got the benefit of seeing a few of the classics, like The King and I. By the time I rolled around good new musicals were thinner on the ground, and only massively successful ones would tour outside of New York. I got to see You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown as a touring company. There was a summer stock revival of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at Playhouse in the Park, with Artie Johnson in the Zero Mostel role, the best thing was that it was in the round, and each of three aisles in the theater were used for the three houses in the story, I sat on the aisle for the House of Marcus Lycus the pander and white slaver. We saw a few out of town flops that didn't make it far past Philadelphia, a vehicle for the post Cabaret Joel Grey, Goodtime Charley, was an unlikely musical based on the story of Joan of Arc from the point of view of the Dauphin, or the other historical flop 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, a 1776 style romp on the history of the White House. The one time my parents took me with them to New York, my first original cast was the brilliant Cy Coleman/ Comden & Green musical On The Twentieth Century with Madeline Kahn, John Cullum, Imogene Coca, and Kevin Kline.

Still, I absorbed the scores of the Original Broadway Cast albums of the shows I'd never seen, or maybe saw the movie on TV. I once helped my team win a high school trivia contest because I knew that the obscure Jackie Gleason vehicle Take Me Along was a musical version of Eugene O'Neil's Ah Wilderness! So I know more about American musical theater than most other straight guys. Break out the show tunes, and I'm instantly camp.

There is so much that the musical and Christmas share, the flamboyance, decorative glamour and sentimentality. So a musical with Christmas somewhere in it is a double whammy. I'm not talking Holiday Inn, White Christmas or Meet Me In St Louis, we're strictly stage today. In 1978 our PBS station showed She Loves Me, a Bock / Harnick musical from 1963 filmed in 1978 for the BBC with a British cast. Based on a Hungarian play that has been the basis for several films including The Shop Around the Corner, In The Good Old Summertime, and, erm, You've Got Mail, it's a romantic comedy about co-workers who fall in love through an anonymous correspondence whilst harbouring initial enmity for each other at work. Of course I loved it, and the second time the PBS station showed it, I recorded the sound by feebly placing my panasonic cassette recorded with the longest play by dubious quality 120 minute tape in it a few inches away from my black and white telly. For years I listened to that recording nearly to destruction.

Outside of a couple more showings on PBS it wasn't shown again and was never released on any video format. This is a shame because it's a very enjoyable production. You can see on YouTube, bless 'em someone's dodgy vhs off air recording, which doesn't have the best sync, but beggars can't be choosers if it's otherwise lost. I'm not sure it's best enjoyed in full via YouTube, but I recommend it if you are keen on musicals. And yes, it is Peter Sallis, the voice of Wallace, as the comic sidekick to the male protagonist.

Here's the song that makes it a particular Christmas treat:

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