Brigadoon on TV
Here's another in musical done for television. It comes from 1966, a bit after TV had its spate of original musicals, and is instead one adapted and shortened from Broadway, Lerner and Lowe's Brigadoon. The production got a lot of attention at the time and was pretty well done, starring Robert Goulet and Sally Ann Howes (who had played the role in a short-run New York revival in 1962 and became the first actor to get a Tony nomination for a revival -- and she would star in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang two years later.). And in a major role, but non-singing, was Peter Falk, who played Goulet's cynical buddy. Well, it's almost non-singing. He actually sings a few lines of the folk song "You Take the High Road" for his very first words here, and is even passable. The show also received a lot of notoriety for featuring renowned ballet star Edward Villella, principal dancer of the New York City Ballet, in a small, but highly-visible and important role.
The TV production was done for the Alcoa Presents series of occasional specials. Without commercials, it runs an hour and a quarter, so it got trimmed quit a bit from the Broadway way. (Which is a good thing, for my taste. Brigadoon has a very good, often-wonderful score, but meanders a bit. Actually, I'm not always crazy about productions, since the show has a delicate balance of reality and fairy tale, and they often strike me as pushing the quaintness. But there was a British production in 1988 that, at least from the CD, is magnificent from literally the fourth note, with the recording sounding like a Scottish folk musical.)
This production isn't great, but comes across well and is fairly lively. In fact, it won six Emmy Awrds. The adaptation is by Ernest Kinoy, an Emmy-winning TV writer with some movie credits (like Buck and the Preacher) and even three stage musicals in his portfolio, most notably Golden Rainbow, that starred Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé and had a solid run. He also wrote the second episode of the classic mini-series Roots, which won him an Emmy.. And you may recall a few weeks back I wrote here about the ACLU and the American Nazi march outside Chicago in the suburb of Skokie -- Kinoy wrote the excellent TV movie based on that, called Skokie, that starred Danny Kaye (in a very rare dramatic role) and John Rubenstein, well-worth tracking down on Netflix.
It was produced and directed by Fielder Cook, one of the more renowned names from the Golden Age of television and beyond. He also directed some feature films, including a wonderful quirky comedy-sort-of-western A Big Hand for the Little Lady with Jason Robards and a great ensemble cast, the same year he did Brigadoon. He also directed the television movie, The Homecoming, that was so successful it got developed into the series, The Waltons. And he directed the TV remake of the classic Harvey, with Jimmy Stewart recreating his famous role, this time opposite Helen Hayes as his sister.
If you don't want to watch this whole production of Brigadoon, I've marked a few high points worth jumping to. The first is the very nice song "Heather on the Hill, which is interesting because, even though this is an in-studio production, they wisely (for a show about the Scottish highlands) shot some of it outdoors, most notably for this song and edit the two together. It comes at the 21:00 mark. And the show's breakout hit song, "Almost Like Being in Love" (which you may recall is the number they use at the end of the film Groundhog Day) comes at 35:30. Finally, though I'm not a big ballet fan, it's absolutely worth jumping to 53:00, when the character of "Harry Beaton," a jilted lover, has his angry wedding dance at the ceremony for his former love, before deciding to run away from Brigadoon, thereby breaking its spell. This, as you've probably figured, is the role for which they hired Edward Villella -- the most well-known dancer of his time, and perhaps the most-famous American ballet dancer period, having performed at the Bolshoi Ballet, and the first American ever to perform at the Royal Danish Ballet. And even as one who isn't crazy about ballet, even I think he's awfully good here.
There's a sort of amusing side note here. Sally Ann Howes had a good career, but it was often in the footsteps of Julie Andrews, often even replacing her in productions. Among other things, she took over for Andrews on Broadway in My Fair Lady -- and then later in the London West End production -- and even did the British TV version of Cinderella. Even her biggest movie hit Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, opposite Dick Van Dyke with a score by the Sherman Brothers, came as a result of Mary Poppins. Anyway, for this adaptation of Brigadoon, it was rewritten slightly to open outdoors with Howes singing "Waitin' for My Dearie' as she wanders through the heather of a Scottish highland overlooking the valley below -- incredibly reminiscent of the Julie Andrews opening on the mountaintop in The Sound of Music. That said, it's worth adding that this time, Sally Ann Howes came first.
Curtain up. Here then is Brigadoon.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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