STAGE TO SCREENS: The First "Cinderella" Returns and Other Holiday Treats

Stage to Screens   STAGE TO SCREENS: The First "Cinderella" Returns and Other Holiday Treats This month we look at some upcoming holiday treats, with the main emphasis on the original live-TV version of "Rodgers & Hammerstein's 'Cinderella,'" with the loverly Julie Andrews in the title role.
Julie Andrews in Cinderella
Julie Andrews in Cinderella Photo by CBS Photo Archives

Also chiming in are "A Christmas Carol" (NBC, Nov. 28, 9 PM ET), the Alan Menken-Lynn Ahrens musical, starring Kelsey Grammer as Ebenezer Scrooge; and the RCA Victor DVD release of Rick McKay's "Broadway: The Golden Age, By the Legends Who Were There."

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Hosted by Andrews — and not seen since March 31, 1957 — "Cinderella" is a presentation of Thirteen/WNET New York's "Great Performances." It airs as a PBS Pledge offering Dec. 5 (9 PM ET) in the New York-Metropolitan area and Dec. 13 nationally (check local listings). Its original Sunday evening showing was on CBS (8-9:30 PM ET), pre-empting "The Ed Sullivan Show" and "G.E. Theatre," hosted by Ronald Reagan. Originally seen in color (by those with color-TV sets), it was shown live in the Eastern, Central and Mountain time zones. In the Pacific time zone, a black-and-white kinescope was aired. "Great Performances" will show a black-and-white kinescope, with color current-day reminiscences interspersed where the commercial breaks had occurred. These will precede the Pledge breaks.

Image Entertainment releases "Cinderella" on VHS and DVD Dec. 7. The DVD bonus material includes an appearance by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II on "The Ed Sullivan Show" (March 24, 1957, in which Rodgers conducts the orchestra while Hammerstein recites the lyric to "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?"), plus interviews (excerpted on "Great Performances") with Andrews and cast members Edie Adams (Fairy Godmother), Kaye Ballard (Stepsister Portia), and Jon Cypher (the Prince).

"Rodgers and Hammerstein's 'Cinderella'," the only musical that the classic team wrote for television, remains a delight. Starring with Andrews are Howard Lindsay (King), Dorothy Stickney (Queen), Edie (then Edith) Adams, Kaye Ballard, Alice Ghostley (Stepsister Joy), Ilka Chase (Stepmother) and Jon Cypher. Ralph Nelson directed. Others in the cast are Robert Penn (Town Crier), Alec Clarke (Captain of the Guard), Iggie Wolfington (Chef), George Hall (Steward) and David F. Perkins (Court Tailor). The ensemble includes six Townspeople, five children, seven singers and 20 dancers, including Joe (then Joseph) Layton, who would later do musical staging for The Sound of Music, direct and choreograph No Strings (words and music by Richard Rodgers) and conceive and direct Two by Two (music by Rodgers). Layton's association with Rodgers began when he was a dancer in Oklahoma!, and he would direct the 1967 Rodgers TV-musical, "Androcles and the Lion."

There's a brief moment at the palace ball when Howard Lindsay dances with Julie Andrews. Lindsay would later write (with partner Russel Crouse) the book for The Sound of Music, the movie version of which would star . . . Guess Who? To play Cinderella, Andrews took a brief vacation from My Fair Lady, in which she had been starring on Broadway for a little more than a year. (As many are aware, Rodgers and Hammerstein had attempted to turn Pygmalion into a musical, but it was Lerner and Loewe who succeeded; Mary Martin, who had turned down the role of Eliza Doolittle in MFL, would play Maria in the Broadway version of Sound of Music.)

Mary Martin had starred as "Peter Pan" on NBC-TV in March 1955 (and again in January 1956), and its popularity had prompted NBC executives to seek another musical property. They approached Rodgers, who had composed an Emmy-winning score for the network's World War II documentary, "Victory at Sea." He and Hammerstein agreed upon "Cinderella." They consulted their friend, Richard Lewine, about working in the medium, and it was he (then working for CBS) who pointed out that his network had Julie Andrews under contract. In March 1956, a week prior to the premiere of My Fair Lady, Andrews had co-starred with Bing Crosby in the CBS production of "High Tor," a musical by Maxwell Anderson (book and lyrics) and Arthur Schwartz (music). Thus, "Cinderella" switched to CBS, with Lewine as producer.

"Cinderella" took seven months to write. Robert Russell Bennett wrote the orchestrations. It cost $370,000 (then a record), and was viewed by 120-million people in North America (another record). Rehearsed like a stage musical, two dress rehearsals were filmed. Called "New Haven" and "Boston" (for the cities that frequently booked Broadway tryouts), they helped the creators to make changes. A third, back-up film was made in case anything went awry during the live telecast, which came from CBS Color Studio 72, located on Broadway and 81st Street (formerly an RKO movie theatre, now the site of a Staples and a Starbucks). "It must have been mayhem in the studio," says Ted Chapin, president of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization.

"In addition to cast and crew, there was a 28-piece orchestra," explains Chapin. "The television cameras were the size of elephants. Technicians had elaborate ideas of how to do the magical transformations, but none of them worked. They ended up putting a sparkler in front of the camera."

On March 19, 1957, Columbia recorded an album (that was released the day after the telecast). "Ilka Chase wasn't around for the recording," states Chapin. "Someone else does her few lines. It wasn't anybody of note. The CD sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday, but the TV production now looks as if it were made in the Stone Age."

Highlights in the score are "In My Own Little Corner" (sung by Andrews), "Impossible" (Andrews, Adams), "Ten Minutes Ago" (Cypher, Andrews), "Stepsisters' Lament" (Ballard, Ghostley), "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?" (Cypher, Andrews) and "A Lovely Night" (Andrews, with Ballard, Ghostley, Chase). The last number, which describes the palace ball, is a sort of musical cousin to "I Could Have Danced All Night," sung by Eliza Doolittle (a sort of cousin to Cinderella). After hearing the last line of "Impossible," it drove me crazy to figure out where I'd heard it before. Then, I realized that it's almost word-for-word and note-for-note the same as the last line of "A Hundred Million Miracles," which R&H wrote two years later for Flower Drum Song.

Following the telecast, it was announced that Rodgers and Hammerstein would adapt "Cinderella" for Broadway, but it never happened. Notes Chapin, "They licensed it for London, with Tommy Steele. There's a recording that's very British." It opened as a Pantomime on Dec. 18, 1958, at the Coliseum. Steele played Buttons, a servant to the Baron (Cinderella's Stepfather, replacing the Stepmother). Three songs from Me and Juliet ("A Very Special Day," "Marriage Type Love" and "No Other Love") were added, along with a number ("You and Me") by Steele. In December 1960, "Cinderella" played another engagement at the Adelphi.

Chapin continues, "Don Driver put together a version [of "Cinderella"] in 1961, after Oscar Hammerstein died, that was done at St. Louis MUNY and Kansas City Starlight. That version got into our catalogue. One of my first tasks when I got to the [R&H] office in 1981 was to undo that version and get a satisfying version from the original. That's the one that's been done since then."

Richard Rodgers was executive producer for a taped remake, shown by CBS (Feb. 22, 1965, and several times thereafter). "Loneliness of Evening," which had been cut from South Pacific, was added for the Prince to sing. "And Rodgers used 'Boys and Girls Like You and Me' [cut from Oklahoma!] as dance music," states Chapin.

Lesley Ann Warren had the title role. Co-starring were Ginger Rogers and Walter Pidgeon (Queen and King), Celeste Holm (Fairy Godmother), Jo Van Fleet (Stepmother), Stuart Damon (Prince), Pat Carroll and Barbara Ruick (as the Stepsisters, renamed Prunella and Esmerelda). In 1997, ABC presented "Cinderella," starring Brandy, with Whitney Houston (Fairy Godmother), Bernadette Peters (Stepmother), Whoopi Goldberg and Victor Garber (Queen and King), Paolo Montalban (Prince), Veanne Cox and Natalie Desselle (Stepsisters, now named Calliope and Minerva).

Ted Chapin (whose marvelous book, "Everything Was Possible: The Birth of the Musical 'Follies,'" comes out in paperback next April) is seen in the documentary that's part of the new DVD bonus material. "You see more of me than you need," says the self-effacing Chapin. Among the comments, Julie Andrews recalls that the floor manager for the telecast was Joseph Papp, and how once during rehearsals she was singing "The Last Time I Saw Paris," unaware that its lyric was by Hammerstein, who reminisced about writing it.

Jon Cypher remembers how, during the reprise of "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?" he kept singing when a line was supposed to be sung by Dorothy Stickney (on whom the camera does a close-up). Later, Cypher was so upset that he cried in his dressing room, and Stickney consoled him. He speaks of being at a restaurant, years after the telecast, and seeing Julie Andrews leave. Cypher's wife followed her and said, "Your Prince Charming is inside." Andrews immediately returned and warmly greeted the actor.

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One of the joys of "Cinderella" is watching the superb timing, warmth and charm of Howard Lindsay and wife Dorothy Stickney, who may not be remembered by many these days. (In one scene, which has Stickney, the Queen, improbably dusting around the palace, the shadow of a crane microphone can be seen on a curtain in back of her.) The couple were the stars of what still remains Broadway's longest-running play, Life with Father, which ran from 1939 to '47, and was written by Lindsay and Crouse. "Cinderella" took place two days after Lindsay's 68th birthday. He died in 1968.

Stickney, who was seven years younger than her husband, outlived him by 30 years, dying in 1998 at 101. Her post-"Cinderella" TV credits were "Evening Primrose" (the 1966 Stephen Sondheim musical) and "The Homecoming: A Christmas Story" (the 1971 movie that inspired "The Waltons" series). Stickney's final Broadway appearance was in 1973, when she took over the role of Berthe in Pippin.

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Effervescent as the Fairy Godmother, Edie Adams sparkles like the sequins on her character's eyelashes. Claims Adams, "I was the only one [of the creative team and cast] who really knew television; I'd been doing daily television since 1952. Here, they were going to do a live musical in a tiny studio. I was terrified! I wondered: Do they know what they're doing?

"They got the best people — lighting guys, sound engineers, dressers. The sets were by Bill and Jean Ekhart, the set designers for Li'l Abner [her second and most recent Broadway musical, in which Adams was playing Daisy Mae at the time]. Behind the scenery, there were four dressers waiting to change you."

After her Juilliard training, she had once auditioned for Richard Rodgers. "He said that he'd make me an understudy and that first I'd go out on the road. I told him, 'I'm terribly sorry, but I don't want to be an understudy.'" As the Fairy Godmother, Adams twirls her scepter like a baton. "I could twirl in high school. They got a baton and made it into a scepter." She fondly remembers Joe Layton being a dancer in the show. "He had been one of the cadets in Wonderful Town [her 1953 Broadway debut, in which she played Rosalind Russell's sister Eileen]. Recalls Adams, "Once, Roz was doing 'The Ed Sullivan Show' and had wanted to wear white. They said she couldn't [because white didn't photograph well]. I said, 'Sure you can. Ask for [a certain lighting man].' Roz was impressed that I knew so much about television." But her knowledge worked against Adams.

"When they did 'Wonderful Town' on television [in 1958], I was supposed to be in it, but Roz saw to it that I wasn't. She was afraid I knew more than she did about television." (When "Wonderful Town" was presented on CBS, Nov. 30, 1958, Jacqueline McKeever played Eileen.) "I was crushed," says Adams. "I never forgave Roz; I would've helped her. I didn't speak to her for ten years."

Working on a new book, "Diaries of a Deep-Fried Twinkie," Adams explains, "When I was starting, if you were a blonde interested in makeup and attire, obviously you had no mind." A lot of her TV work paired her with husband, comic genius Ernie Kovacs (1919-62). "That was flying without a net." She has only fond memories of the "Cinderella" cast: "Everyone was so talented. Kaye Ballard is so funny and such a fine singer. Julie Andrews is a sweet lady. I love her! Everyday [in rehearsals], she would have 'proper tea' brought in during the afternoon. She's amazing! Nothing bothers Julie. She could walk through an earthquake, come out and still have the right dress on, and saying the right words."

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Kaye Ballard describes "Cinderella" as "a great experience!" She remembers "the first day of rehearsals, when Rodgers and Hammerstein performed the score. It was the most exciting thing in the world! Tears ran down my eyes when Mister Rodgers played the piano and Oscar Hammersetin sang, 'Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?'

"I was so impressed with Howard Lindsay and Dorothy Stickney. It was thrilling! They were so gracious and had such respect for the theatre. Today, the tradition is not there. When we'd all break for lunch, Howard Lindsay would sit on his throne and she'd sit next to him, and they'd have these brown paper bags with their sandwiches.

"Julie Andrews was delightful! Never any temperament. Edie Adams was wonderful! [Director] Ralph Nelson was a stickler for rehearsing. I adore Alice Ghostley. What was funny was we took a salary and everyone else worked for scale. We did so much overtime that they all made much more money than we did. Oscar Hammerstein gave me "the greatest compliment I ever got in my life. He said, 'You know, Kaye, you're becoming the consummate artist.' That was something special."

Ballard has a memoir due in December: "It's called 'How I Lost 10 Pounds in 53 Years.' It can be ordered on my website, KayeBallard.com, as can a new album of my favorite songs." Starting February 2, the comedienne is signed "for 12 weeks in Palm Springs Follies. I live in Rancho Mirage [CA], so I just have to go down the street to go to work. They named the street I live on 'Kaye Ballard Lane.' I may not have won a Tony, but the street will last a lot longer."

It was her idea to have Stepsister Portia snort, says Kaye Ballard, "and I hope you noticed I did the snort way before Lily Tomlin came along."

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Having played ten years (during holiday time) at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden, "A Christmas Carol" makes it to television on NBC Nov. 28. "How many people these days get their musicals made into movies?" asks lyricist Lynn Ahrens, who wrote the teleplay. "We're very happy." Composer Alan Menken asked Ahrens, who collaborates with Stephen Flaherty, to write the lyrics. "It was fine with Steve; it was a great opportunity."

The show stars Kelsey Grammer as Scrooge, Jason Alexander as Jacob Marley, Jesse L. Martin, Jane Krakowski, and Geraldine Chaplin as the Ghosts of Christmas Present, Past and Future, and Jennifer Love Hewitt as Emily. Arthur Allan Seidelman directed.

Next up for Ahrens is Dessa Rose at Lincoln Center. "We start previews in February. It stars La Chanze and Rachel York as women in the pre-Civil War South, with Michael Hayden and Norm Lewis as the men in their lives. Graciela Daniele is directing. I wrote the book and lyrics, Stephen Flaherty did the music."

Every year for "A Christmas Carol" onstage, says Ahrens, "we made little changes. The TV version is very close to the stage version. For television, you have to think in a visual sense. It adapted beautifully to the medium. Wait till you see Kelsey Grammer. He's fantastic!"

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The DVD of Rick McKay's "Broadway: The Golden Age, By the Legends Who Were There" contains 88 minutes of bonus features, including the New York and Hollywood premieres; more performance footage of Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse; an alternate ending; the original trailer; comments from McKay; and a 35-minute sneak preview from the sequel, with (among others) Jason Alexander, Alan Cumming, Cherry Jones, Patti LuPone, Amanda Plummer, Douglas Sills, Mary Testa and Karen Ziemba. For the holidays, it makes a great stocking-stuffer for theatre fans.

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Michael Buckley also writes for TheaterMania.com, and is the author of the book "Between Takes (Interviews with Hollywood Legends)," to be published in 2005.

Jon Cypher in <i>Cinderella</i>
Jon Cypher in Cinderella Photo by CBS Photo Archives
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