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I remember this TV production well. Even in black and white, it was a magical show. The cast was perfect. The songs are all outstanding. The duet with Patrice Munsell and Vic Damone of "It Might Have Been" is really terrific. The whole cast was just right. There have been other musical versions of "Christmas Carol" but this is definitely the best. The story was narrated by the Four Lads as a group of carolers with the excellent song, "Stingest Man In Town".I am lucky to have the cast recording on an LP and also the stage script with the music. Both are real treasures for me. Many of the old TV shows are making their way to DVD now and this is one that definitely should be released on disc. While the cartoon is nice, it just does not hold the magic of the original live broadcast. This is one of my fondest memories of Christmases long ago.
I have hoped all my adult life that this music would be released as this was a part of every Christmas while growing up. I remember watching this on the Alcoa Hour and then being with my mother as she bought the record. It was always the first Christmas music we would play each year - and played many times at that! I still have that record but it is now so scratched and worn that listening to it is difficult at best. I even taped it onto audiotapes in order to preserve the memories but continue to look for a release of the music and even the play itself. What a great thing that would be!! I have all the words memorized to all the songs, but there's something stirring about hearing the music in the voices that were originally part of this cast. It's always amazed me that when a retrospective of Basil Rathbone's work is done this show is not ever mentioned!
This is my first time commenting, so here goes! The music of "the Stingiest Man in Town" was just superb and still gets played at our house every Christmas. My father brought home the movie in the 50's because he worked for Alcoa at the time. The setting of the movie was crude but the actors and their voices were just outstanding. I'd love to hear from anyone who's seen this movie and their comments. (just imagine Basil Rathbone as a singing Scrooge!) I would also ask if anyone can find this movie for me. I have checked everywhere to no avail. I checked both Basil Rathbone's and Vic Damone's website. Vic Damone's voice was so good even as a very young man and anyone who doesn't shed a tear over Johnny Desmond's "Birthday Party of the King" has no heart. I will be grateful for any extra help I can get in having this movie for my family at this year's Christmas. Thanks, meemster32
I, too, have been searching for years for a video (now DVD) release of the original Alcoa Hour production of The Stingiest Man in Town, which I wish I had been able to see when it aired in the 1950's. In the late 1990s, I contacted NBC since the production was aired on that network. They told me they had a policy not to release certain productions, including this one. Hopefully they will change their mind about that policy. My parents had the record album, which I listened to as a child. But good news: A few years ago, the soundtrack/vocals (the original album) was released on CD, so I bought it to replace the scratched album (which I still keep, though). Also, here is a tidbit: One of the original Four Lads lives and was recently performing in the Cleveland (OH) area where I live. In the early 2000s, I went to a Four Lads performance with the album and asked him (Bernie Toorish) to autograph it. I also asked him about the Alcoa Hour production of Stingiest Man, and he gave me a few anecdotes about it. He mentioned that it was done live and that was somewhat stressful but fun, and he talked about how they (the Four Lads were the carolers/narrators) stood on the side of the stage, and it was a bit cramped in order to get it all on television at that time (given the cameras they used, etc.). When we talked, he said he wasn't sure whether a tape had been made of the original production. Mr. Toorish still resides in the Greater Cleveland area, as far as I know. He was really great to discuss the Stingiest Man in Town with me.
My daughter found the DVD of this wonderful original version of The
Stingiest Man in Town and I watched it Christmas Eve. I was 10 when it
was first telecast and, if I saw it then, I was probably nowhere near
as impressed as I was to see it revived for the 21st century. The only
drawback is the lack of color, and that because it was a rare color
telecast back in 1956. It was also done live (videotape was a few years
away), so all we have now is a restored black and white kinescope (that
means it was shot on film off a TV tube during the live broadcast.)
Unlike a lot of kines, this one comes off very well. You can see some
scratches and other signs of filmic age, but the production shines
through it all, and it is a great version of The Christmas Carol! Mr.
Rathbone, who never claimed to be a singer, holds his own against
Johnny Desmond, Vic Damone and the (now somewhat forgotten) Patrice
Munsel - they were all pop music stars at that time.
Now that I'm an old codger myself, I miss the extravaganza network productions of 50s TV. Junk like American Idle (whoops! did I spell that wrong on purpose?) and Dancing with the Hasbeen Wannabes just don't hold a candle to the true variety and "special" productions that used to grace the tube in its early days.
If you're looking for the real thing, see if you can find this one! (And thanks to my kid for a nice Christmas Eve :o)>
I bought the recording in 1956 and have been playing it every Christmas since. I still get goose bumps when I hear the wonderful duet "It Might Have Been" and the song with the lyric "every man shall be my brother" Unfortunately my copy is getting a bit worn and I would like to secure another copy. If only they could show it again or provide a video of this program, but Alcoa has refused to do so. The music is so festive and cheerful that it makes me feel happy over the holiday season. I would like to correspond with others who appreciate this program. Basil Rathborn was magnificent as well as Patrice Muncel. The Four Lads were also outstanding.
This production, and the wonderful music from it, was an important part of our family's Christmas tradition for many years-until the Long Play records were finally broken by one of the grandchildren. Although the story line was obviously very familiar, the stage craft and music gave new life to Dickens beloved Christmas tale. The casting was truly inspired -with Basil Rathbone the best of the lot. The original musical score was extremely clever and well done by some of the best artists (both from popular and classical venues)of that time. It's a shame that a video reproduction of performance is not readily available in tape or compact disc form. It would be wonderful if I could purchase a copy of the record of the musical score or if someone could burn a compact disc from a copy and allow me to purchase the same. Thanks very much.
In my senior year of high school (1974), we produced this musical.
Ummm, yours truly played Scrooge. I had the LP of the original cast
recording, but I'm too young to have seen the B&W original live action
production on TV (I agree with the other posters who state that the
animated version was disappointing compared to the live action
Please let me know when and how a DVD or download of the original B&W live action production of "The Stingiest Man in Town" becomes available.
Thank you, Steve Marcus firstname.lastname@example.org
I never forgot the CBS television production which I saw as a child in 1956 and I listened to the studio recording until it was worn out. As we entered the video age, some decades ago now, I vainly searched on two coasts for the original kinescope and finally accepted the verdict of the head of the Paley Center Museum of Television and Broadcasting in L.A. that (except for a few minutes of Act II) it was lost forever. But, as they sometimes do, a miracle occurred and one day a copy of the original kinescope surfaced from the basement of a recently deceased Alcoa executive. Alcoa had been the original sponsor. Just shortly before this discovery I had chanced upon the complete piano-vocal score on the dusty shelves of a vintage music store in NYC. In some ways this was an even greater find as I had not known that the score of the show, an ephemeral TV special, had ever been published. I still think it is the best musical adaptation of "A Christmas Carol," with near operatic fulfillment. Basil Rathbone will surprise all his Sherlock Holmes fans as he sings and dances. Perhaps his physical agility will not surprise those who know his fencing scenes from "Robin Hood" and "The Court Jester." His acting is full of warmth and humanity especially in his conversion song "Mankind Should Be My Business." He is supported by a strong cast including Metropolitan Opera stars Robert Weede (Marley's Ghost) and Patrice Munsel (young Scrooge's fiancée) who joins Vic Damone (Young Scrooge) in an extended duet. Veteran Savoyard Martin Green has a delightful turn as Bob Cratchit and the story is framed by the narration of The Four Lads as strolling carolers. Imaginatively directed by Daniel Petrie, the production values may seem dated now but were cutting edge for live television in 1956. The memorable music and lyrics by Fred Spielman and Janice Torre includes several numbers that should have become holiday standards: "The Birthday Party of the King", "An Old Fashioned Christmas", and "Yes, There Is a Santa Claus." Now that the original has been made available to a new audience it is time for a new production.
Only one other musical version of A Christmas Carol comes close and
that's Muppet Christmas Carol. With the exceptions of Vic Damone's very
wooden(but well-sung) Young Scrooge and the intrusive and overlong(if
cleverly danced) Devil's Ballet, for such a very early live TV
broadcast 1956's The Stingiest Man in Town is truly impressive. Even if
there are technical and musical faults here and there they can be
forgiven considering that it was one of the first, and those faults
don't make the production look too cheap and don't hurt the production
very much(or at least to me they didn't). The production isn't lavish
visually but there was clear effort made and for very early live
broadcast TV musicals it does look pretty good, the use of kinescope
effective. The sound engineering is remarkably good and clear, suiting
the acoustics well and with good attention to orchestral balance.
The staging is always entertaining, though the stage does look cramped on occasions, and with several heartfelt moments(Mankind Should Be My Business is especially good in this regard). The story is very easy to follow and captures the spirit of A Christmas Carol and Christmas beautifully, the ending was very moving. For a musical to work you have to have good songs, and you certainly have those in A Stingiest Man in Town as well as a musical score that has whimsy and energy. Sure, Golden Dreams does go on forever(still a lovely song though), but faring best were One Little Boy and Mankind Should Be My Business. Not only because they were the ones that stuck out as the most memorable but also they were the ones that sounded like they came straight from the heart the most. The orchestra play wonderfully, just loved the warm-sounded, soaring violins in An Old Fashioned Christmas and Tutti Camarata shows signs of a sympathetic conductor with a great ear for acoustics and textures.
The always-present Carollers played by the Four Lads move the story forward rather than distracting thankfully, the group's harmonies are tight and they blend very well. Apart from Damone, the performances are solid though only one's outstanding. Fred has more screen-time than most other Freds in Christmas Carol adaptations, and Johnny Desmond plays him with warm humour and joviality that he is a likable character, he has a good amount to sing and he does the songs justice. Martyn Green is suitably humble as Bob Cratchit, you really feel sympathy(you do wish considering his calibre as a singer that he had more to do) and Robert Weede is a chillingly effective Marley despite him looking ridiculous(Marley looking like he'd dressed up as a nun for a party was definitely not something that Dickens had in mind). Dennis Kohler's Tiny Tim is most sweet and moving and the three spirits are imposingly played(particularly Robert Wright as Ghost of Christmas Present, maybe there is a little bias as Present was always my favourite of the three spirits).
Outstanding though is Basil Rathbone in the title role, he relishes the miserable miser side of Scrooge's character- his experience in villainous roles being an advantage- but the reformed/changed side of the character is very touchingly portrayed as well. Also surprising was his singing, not only does his voice have a nice sound, speaking as a singer here, but he also sings with feeling, which is every bit as important and perhaps even more so. All in all, very, very impressive indeed, one of the best musical versions of A Christmas Carol and compares well with live musical broadcasts. 8.5/10 Bethany Cox
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