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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. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

Our Town
American TV 1955 and YouTube April 2021 

One of the fabled lost treasures of the Golden Age of American Television has surfaced on YouTube, and it is a real gem a musical version of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, starring Frank Sinatra as the Stage Manager.

(Quick reminder: scenes of life in small town America at the start of the Twentieth Century, with a chorus/narrator as our guide)

Made for an occasional series called Producers' Showcase, the adaptation by David Shaw retains the core of Wilder's drama while making room for original songs by Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen.

It works, delightfully. All the great scenes are there the Stage Manager's commentary, the homework at the bedroom windows, the soda fountain, the wedding and the exquisite final sequence. And the songs are, for the most part, welcome enrichments of the moments.

At least two Love And Marriage and The Impatient Years became standards and popular hits. A jolly patter song encapsulates all the geographic and demographic data of the Stage Manager's introduction, Wonderful Wedding is a comic delight, and there is even room for a sprightly wedding-celebration dance number.

Only one cavil it was inescapable that a song would be inserted into Emily's climactic revisit to her childhood, and Look To Your Heart is not a bad song. But it is such unnecessary gilding of an already perfect lily that it can't help feeling like an intrusion.

Frank Sinatra seems a little uncertain at the start, as if unsure about acting on live television, but he quickly relaxes, and of course his singing is impeccable.

Thirty-year-old Paul Newman is never really convincing as teenager George, though thirty-one-year-old Eva Marie Saint totally inhabits young Emily from the start. Nowhere is that clearer than the lovely soda fountain scene, where he dutifully reads his lines while she is wholly in the moment and the character.

The supporting cast, all Broadway stalwarts, play a large part in creating and maintaining the play's reality.

The black-and-white kinescope picture is actually in better shape than you'd expect, though the sound balance is sometimes off, music threatening to drown out voices.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Our Town - YouTube 2921