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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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