I was present at a screening of this TV special in London in 1964, when I was a teenager working as an intern for the Grade Organisation. More than a year after its original Stateside transmission date, one of the American producers of this programme hoped to convince my employer Lew Grade to buy the UK broadcast rights. I whole-heartedly voiced my approval, but my voice had very little influence on Mr Grade at that time. (He wasn't Sir Lew yet, much less Lord Grade.) I recall enjoying this special very much; this IMDb review -- written more than 40 years on -- is based on my memories of that screening and some notes I took at the time. Those of you hoping to see this programme for yourselves, please note: I've no idea where to get hold of a copy of the recording, nor even if it still exists. Here's hoping it does, though.
The show is titled 'The Broadway of Lerner and Loewe', but that title's very misleading; this special concerns itself almost entirely with that team's two most recent shows at this time: 'Camelot' and 'My Fair Lady'. Those two musicals are pretty much joined at the hip, since they had the same creative team: librettist Lerner, composer Loewe, leading lady Julie Andrews, director Moss Hart, choreographer Hanya Holm and production designer Oliver Smith. The only other L&L score which gets even a brief look-in here is 'Gigi', entirely down to the presence of compere Maurice Chevalier, who memorably appeared in the film version of that score. (When 'Gigi' became a Broadway musical -- after the film version, reversing the usual process -- Chevalier's role was played by Alfred Drake.)
This special contains a brief tribute to Moss Hart, who had died unexpectedly (and much too young) while the special was in production. When I attended the screening in 1964, I had only the vaguemost notion of who Moss Hart was, and I wondered if he had something to do with Moss Rose or Moss Bros. I now know, of course, that he was a major Broadway figure, although he only ever worked with Lerner & Loewe on these two musicals.
This show has a general air of cheapness about it, and was clearly produced on a very low budget. In 1964, I had not yet seen any version of 'My Fair Lady' or 'Camelot', so it was a real delight for me to see the great Stanley Holloway here performing his two numbers from the former. He does them solo here; apparently the production budget wouldn't stretch far enough to give him a supporting chorus, plus costumes and rehearsals. I recall thinking that both numbers would have worked better with a back-up chorus: I didn't realise at the time that this was indeed how they were originally staged.
The wonderful Julie Andrews sings material from both her L&L roles here. She teams with Richard Burton on 'What Do the Simple Folk Do?' Being very unsophisticated at the time, I was somewhat confused by this song because it seems to turn into an entirely different song ('Arise, My Love') after the second verse. I later saw a clip of Andrews and Burton performing this same number on the Ed Sullivan show; that version is better than this one ... or maybe I was just more sophisticated when I saw the second version.
Alan Jay Lerner's roommate at Harvard was some guy named John F. Kennedy, who was still alive and in politics when this special was produced and transmitted. JFK attended 'Camelot' during its Broadway run. Shortly after his death, his widow commented about how much he'd liked the show: as a result, 'Camelot' -- while it was still running on Broadway -- underwent a radical change in the public's perception, being seen as a symbol of the Kennedy years and what Kennedy might have achieved. However you feel about JFK, it's unfair to dump that burden on a simple little Broadway show. Fortunately, none of that metaphysical stuff taints this special, since JFK hadn't died yet.
Despite its low budget, I enjoyed this special at the time ... and in hindsight, now that I've seen full-blown productions of 'My Fair Lady' and 'Camelot', I would probably still enjoy a second viewing of this cheapjack special. I do recall being annoyed at the time by the spoken insertions of two alleged "theatre goers" who -- painfully obviously -- are clearly actors speaking scripted lines. At the time, I didn't recognise them; seeing both of them again later, giving better performances in other productions, I recognised them as Frances Sternhagen and Charles Nelson Reilly. Sternhagen has become one of my favourite character actresses. As for Reilly ... well, I never much liked him as an actor, but I admire his professionalism and his achievements as a director. Their segments here are badly written and poorly performed, and really should have been left out altogether.
I shan't give this special a rating, since my memories of it are spotty. Fans of Broadway musicals will enjoy it ... but there's not much going on here that isn't also on offer (much more impressively) in the full movie versions of 'Gigi', 'My Fair Lady' and 'Camelot'. As your consolation prize, I'll give you a piece of movie trivia: In the film version of 'Camelot', when Lancelot gets his first view of King Arthur's castle, director Josh Logan decided that the grass wasn't green enough ... so he paid one of the locals to hand-paint the grass!
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