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This revisionist fairy tale is told from the Wolf's point of view. He was minding his business when along came this precocious little girl, Red Riding Hood. "And the nerve of that cowardly woodsman, daring to hint that I was attacking her", the wolf cries. Naturally, the animals of the forest do not believe him. Written by
When the Wolf tells Red Riding Hood that "people who give presents to each other are the luckiest people in the world" this is a sly reference to the hit 1960s song "People" which was introduced by Barbra Streisand in the Broadway musical "Funny Girl," the songs for which were written by Robert Merril and Jule Styne who also wrote the songs for "Dangerous Christmas." See more »
What do you get when you throw a ton of money at top Broadway talents for a "sure fire" holiday special and toss in a popular rock group for demographic appeal? Well, historically and forever anything that people assume will be "sure fire" isn't - and THE DANGEROUS Christmas OF RED RIDING HOOD (or OH WOLF, POOR WOLF! as the sub title ran - a spoof on the relatively recent Arthur Kopit stage farce "Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mother's Hung You In The Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad" and typical of the "wit" of the script) is a perfect example.
Top billed Cyril Ritchard was (and remains) beloved of American audiences for his Captain Hook in Mary Martin's PETER PAN (with part of its score by Jule Styne); Liza Minnelli had already made the beginning of a major mark on stage Off-Broadway in a revival of BEST FOOT FORWARD and had won a Tony for her Broadway debut in the marginally successful Kander and Ebb musical FLORA THE RED MENACE (her incongruous first costume here looks like something from that show); Styne and Merrill's FUNNY GIRL was in its second year on Broadway, and they were both working on shows for the following season (Styne would win a Tony for HALLELUJAH, BABY - Merrill would come acropper with his BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S closing in previews). How could they go wrong with a little hour long holiday special?
Quite easily it turned out - although nothing much was lost at the time. No one had a lot to lose, and with Styne and Merrill as Executive Producers, there was no one to push for better. The work was tossed off without the care and craft that would go into something which had to sustain a run on stage. It filled a time slot and was decent fun even if it was no one's best work ("Ding-A-Ling" is fairly definitive proof that pop/rock music was not Styne or Merrill's métier).
Not one particularly distinguished tune or lyric emerged (the "Red Riding Hood" number sets the tone of sustained silliness with its anachronistic rhymes and jokes), and the wit in the book credited to Robert Emmett never went much beyond the only partially fulfilled concept of telling the story of "Red Riding Hood" from the Wolf's point of view. Despite the presence - mainly for the joke of the group's name
of the pop group "Eric Burdon and The Animals" in the supporting cast
(they do awfully well in the Lee Theodore's sprightly 60's choreography), the show essentially disappeared after the initial November 28, 1965 Thanksgiving broadcast over the ABC Network (one supposes the link was EVERYONE going to Grandmother's house for Thanksgiving Dinner) until a cheap black and white holiday VHS video (a kinescope?) appeared in discount Christmas bins a decade or so ago.
With a slightly better print now available on DVD, the show is an interesting view for what is there. Ritchard is, as always, a delight in the lead role of the Big not-so-Bad Wolf narrating the piece in flash-back from his "cell" in the zoo, even when allowed to raise his perpetually arched eyebrows a trifle too high. The very young Liza Minnelli (Red Riding Hood - "her real name was Lillian") is just approaching her full powers and the potential is obvious. The talent is still very raw, but it is undeniably impressive ('though it would take a far stronger director than Sid Smith to reign her in and get a polished performance). It is clear why, the following fall, she would be rejected in her audition for Sally Bowles in the original CABARET - Sally was supposed to be worldly but *not* supposed to be a first class performer, and No one would believe a Minnelli Sally producing the required character shadings or that she could do no better than performing in a basement in Berlin at this point in her career.
Fanciers of early 60's pop music get a glance of both Vic Damone as Minnelli's Woodsman/love interest and The Animals as the "Wolf Pack. Both were popular at the time, and while nothing in the Styne/Merrill score is as good as anything in Merrill's score for BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S (which finally got recorded more than 25 years after it closed on Broadway!), nothing in it is painful either and all is musically very well performed by all concerned.
Pleasant little artifact and a diverting holiday trifle. Nothing more, nothing less . . . but it might have been much, much more.
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