Judge Jim Thomas dreams of writing DVD reviews alone in a department store at night.
Have you ever wondered what would happen if Stephen Sondheim made a musical version of The Twilight Zone?
ABC Studio 67, like NBC's Omnibus, is an artifact of the halcyon days when the networks gave more than lip service to the idea of educational television. The show featured documentaries, retrospectives, original dramas, and even a few original musicals. It only lasted a single season, but there were more than a few memorable moments. One of the most memorable was a small musical featuring music by a composer on the verge of immortality.
For many years, it was the Holy Grail for Stephen Sondheim fans. It was only broadcast once, but of the four songs Sondheim wrote for the 50- minute show, two, "I Remember" and "Take Me to the World," quickly became cabaret standards. At last, E1 brings us Evening Primrose.
Poet Charles Snell (Anthony Perkins, Psycho), fed up with society, hides in a department store as it closes. He figures that he can hide during the day and have the run of the place at night, and never have to deal with everyday pettiness again ("If You Can Find Me, I'm Here"). There, alone in the store, he will finally be able to write the poetry of his dreams. What Charles doesn't count on is that other people have had more or less the same idea—he discovers a secret community living in the store. He's allowed to remain, but there's a catch—he can never leave, for the formidable Mrs. Monday (Dorothy Stickney, I Never Sang For My Father) will stop at nothing to keep the outside world from discovering her secret enclave.
Charles is living his dream, until he meets nineteen-year-old Ella Harkins (Charmian Carr, The Sound of Music). When she was six, she got separated from her mother in the store and fell asleep in Ladies Hats, where she was discovered after the store closed. Mrs. Monday decided to keep Ella as a servant, but because Ella didn't choose to be there, she is treated with scorn and suspicion. Charles, however, is smitten. Ella, longing to feel the sun on her face, the wind in her hair, begs Charles to take her back to the world. Now Charles must decide if he wants to risk the wrath of Mrs. Monday and the "Dark Men" and replace one dream with another.
Anthony Perkins, six years removed from Psycho and Norman Bates, and without a trained voice, turns in a winning, touching performance, displaying a surprisingly strong voice. Charmian Carr, fresh off her performance as Liesl in The Sound of Music, brings warmth and pathos to the role of Ella. Director Peter Bogart has a lovely story about shooting her main number, the wistful "I Remember," noting that she did such a wonderful job singing of her childhood memories of the world outside that he decided not to even bother shooting Perkins's reaction shots, but decided to keep the camera on Carr for the entire song. The music is great, the story is interesting, but the two genres, like oil and water, simply don't mix. The pieces almost fall into place on several occasions, the song "When" being the best example; the song is done in voiceover while Charles and Emma go about their business. The direction is a little forced, but the sequence still works. Less successful is the conclusion, in which the two lovers are found out when their singing gets picked up by the store's intercom system.
The Sound of Music and Evening Primrose turned out to be Carr's only major roles; she got married shortly after Everning Primrose, and quit acting to raise her family.
The show was shot in color, but the original master tape has been lost; for a long time, a B&W videotape was available at the Museum of Television and Radio, but it was in pretty poor shape. Luckily, as the DVD was in development, a nearly pristine 16mm B&W kinescope print was discovered; that print was used as the master for this disc. There's still some damage, and contrast is a little inconsistent—dark clothing tends to fade into dark backgrounds. Overall, though, the image is fairly sharp. Audio is clear but a little tinny at times; there are also some balance issues with the music, but nothing too distracting. All in all, it's not too bad. There's a good slate of extras. A roughly 25-minute interview with director Paul Bogart provides some background information; he cops to some bad directorial decisions. An audio interview with Charmian Carr, made several years ago, offers some additional information. There's come silent color footage of Perkins, as well as a booklet with background, lyrics, and an introductory letter from Sondheim. It would have been nice to have gotten more from Sondheim, whether in the form of a commentary track or an interview.
At the time Evening Primrose was produced, Sondheim was already working with writer James Goldman (The Lion in Winter) on a project that would eventually become Follies, and Anthony Perkins brought Sondheim in on a project that eventually became Company. It was a period when Sondheim was coming into his own as a composer and lyricist. While Evening Primrose can't quite compare with either of those works, the musical similarities between the works is striking. With a little more time to refine the script and direction, Evening Primrose could have been a true classic. It's engaging, but this is one of those discs whose primary interest is historical. The marriage of the Serling-esque story and Sondheim musical is a strained one at best. Goldman crafts some great dialogue at the beginning, but the ending fails to generate any real suspense—more than likely, that's as much a function of the incredibly rushed production as it was the script.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
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