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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.

Evening Primrose
American TV 1966 and YouTube   September 2021

Here is a real archaeological discovery a 'lost' Stephen Sondheim musical.

I put Lost in quotation marks because we've always known of this 1966 American television drama-with-music and two of the songs have entered the cabaret singer repertoire.

But actual copies of the video were hard to come by and, in fact, this one on YouTube, obviously a copy of a copy of a copy of a bootleg, is of pretty poor visual quality. But it's here.

James Goldman's script is based on John Collier's modern-gothic short story. A young would-be poet (Anthony Perkins) decides to escape from the world by hiding in a big department store after hours.

He discovers he's not alone there's a whole community of people who have been there for decades, pretending to be mannequins by day and living out their memories of faded glory and elegance by night. The one young person among them (Charmian Carr) got lost in the store as a child.

Inevitably she and the poet fall in love. But the others, fearing exposure, won't let them escape.

It's a satisfyingly eerie story, but of course the only things you're really interested in are the songs.

Perkins has a solo exulting in what he thinks will be a new and unencumbered life, and there is a clever duet for the lovers made up entirely of their unspoken but voiced-over thoughts.

But the two big songs belong to Carr, and they really are good. 'I Remember Sky' is the girl's wistful attempt to recall a life before the store. It's one of Sondheim's signature 'list' songs, developing real pathos simply by treating the most ordinary things as holy.

'Take Me To The World' is the one that will strike you as most Sondheim-ish, with slight melodic anticipations of Sweeney Todd and rhymes that catch you off balance 'A world with smiles, with streets instead of aisles.'

Anthony Perkins could sing he had already been in a short-lived Broadway musical but here he generally speak-sings his songs. Carr (Liesl in the film of The Sound Of Music) is more of a singer, and it may be the weakness of this videotape that makes her voice occasionally thin or sharp.

Put up with the limitations of this video. Evening Primrose is a must-see for any Sondheim fan.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Evening Primrose 2021