Two More Vintage Musicals Appear on DVDs
Here is yet another addition, actually two of them, to the Video Artists International series of vintage televised musicals from the 1950s both of which are most unusual.
Designed for Christmas viewing, Victor Herbert’s “Babes in Toyland” was telecast on December 18, 1954 and again on December 24, 1955 with only two cast changes. Since both were available as black and white kinescopes, the good folk at VAI chose to include both on a single disc.
What makes this production even more valuable is that it is the only one seen on small or big screens to keep to the original plot. Will the beautiful Bo-Peep find her sheep? Will the horrible Silas Barnaby get his wicked way? Allow me to ignore the plot, as I am sure all but children will do, and reassure my readers that the music is the essence. How can one dislike a duet based on a math homework problem?
There are five writers listed who have “adapted” the show to fit into a 90-minute (less for commercials) slot. So allowances must be made by those who know the original version.
Those who lived through the 1950s will recognize in the casts, many a personality: Dave Garroway (Santa Claus in a framing device), Dennis Day (Tommy Tucker), Wally Cox (Grumio), Jack E. Leonard (Barnaby), and even Bill & Cora Baird and their Marionettes. The soprano lead of Jane Piper is Jo Sullivan in 1954 and Barbara Cook in 1955. That provides a nostalgia trip on top of it all.
The highlight of “Babes in Toyland” is obviously the “March of the Toys” in which the show’s most famous music is heard and in which the choreographer can be as imaginative as possible. Given the small area of the television studio, Rod Alexander did a very nice job, using both marionettes and live dancers. In fact, the telecasts produced by Max Liebman make good use of the Rod Alexander and Bambi Linn team.
While the Clown routines might prove a bit tiresome for adults, the tiny tots will eat them up. Entertainers, however, will appreciate the changes in the Clown sequence in 1954 and 1955.
I have always thought that the opening and closing number, “Toyland,” has a slight apologetic ring to it. Asking an adult audience to watch Mother Goose characters does perhaps call for an excuse. (The 1903 original was designed as a Christmas review.) But somehow the song works and therefore so does the show.