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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. And we take the opportunity to explore other vintage productions preserved online. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

US Television 1958 and YouTube   Autumn 2021

When live theatre was interrupted in 2020 we began reviewing productions available online, both contemporary and classic, with particular success in rediscovering sixty- and seventy-year old dramas from American and British television in the depths of YouTube and other archives.

This is our first big disappointment.

Aladdin, broadcast live and only once on American television in 1958, is Cole Porter's last complete score, and your first regret has to be that the songs are not particularly good.

There are a couple of passable throwaway comic numbers a welcome to the Peking market promises 'If you come on a camel we can park it'.

But the big romantic duet for Aladdin and the Princess, 'I Adore You,' wastes a pleasant enough melody on banal lyrics, and the big inspirational number, 'Trust Your Destiny To Your Star,' is Porter trying very uneasily to be Oscar Hammerstein.

The major attraction of the production, for anyone but Porter collectors, is Cyril Ritchard's performance as the evil magician.

Ritchard overacts and camps it up shamelessly, stopping just this side of a Panto villain. But that is what you hired Cyril Ritchard to do see his definitive Captain Hook in the Mary Martin Peter Pan and he brings what life there is to the show.

As the princess, Anna Maria Alberghetti is pretty and can sing; as Aladdin, Sal Mineo is pretty and can't sing. Basil Rathbone is totally wasted as the Emperor, surely having spent more time in make-up than he does onscreen.

If you're in a charitable mood the incidental comic scenes involving Aladdin's mother (Una Merkel) and the friendly neighbourhood pickpocket (Howard Morris) are pleasant enough, and the dances by an uncredited Rod Alexander are witty.

But this is strictly for Porter scholars and Ritchard fans.

Originally broadcast in an experimental and soon-abandoned colour process, the black-and-white recording is somewhat washed-out. It includes the original advertisements for the DuPont Company, which are fascinating in not selling products as much as the message that big corporations are good for you.

Gerald Berkowitz
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Review of Aladdin - US Television 1958 - 2021