By Steven Suskin
15 Apr 2012
Julie Andrews/Carol Burnett: The CBS Television Specials [Masterworks Broadway]
Put a couple of show business legends onstage before a New York audience, with a full orchestra, and televise it as a special. That was the case with two CBS evenings now released, together as "Julie Andrews/Carol Burnett: The CBS Television Specials." Legendary ladies with an asterisk, I suppose; an asterisk which makes the earlier portion markedly more interesting and intriguing than the second.
The April 29, 1962 "Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall" has gone down in legend, practically. (The concert was telecast on June 11.) Julie and Carol were poised, both, on the threshold of undreamed of and perhaps unexpected fame; certainly, no one had any idea they would each soon be in a league —more or less — with Elizabeth Taylor. Julie had by this point starred in My Fair Lady (in New York and London) and Camelot, making her the toast of Broadway. That said, "Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall" was a television special — and television-wise, Julie was just another Broadway singer (albeit a major one).
The Carnegie Hall special was an offshoot of "Garry Moore"; Julie appeared on four episodes during the 1961-62 season, and the chemistry with Burnett was immediately apparent. So immediate that "Moore" producer (Bob Banner) and director (Joe Hamilton) sold CBS on doing the special. But "Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall" in 1962 was something of a dark horse to audiences in general; we can imagine, though, just how good this special seemed at the time.
When the pair reunited ten years later for "Julie and Carol at Lincoln Center," things were different. The audience was not watching two supertalented singing actresses cutting up and making fun at the country's premier temple of culture; they were watching two beloved icons trying — or perhaps pretending to try — to cut up. This time at Philharmonic Hall (now Avery Fisher). The two concerts share this two-CD set, but it is an odd pairing. The second show tries to mimic the first. Both have eight-minute-plus sketches spoofing ballet. The Carnegie Hall spoof incorporates — rather outlandishly — "The Girl That I Marry," "Doin' What Comes Natur'lly" and "There's No Business Like Show Business" from Annie Get Your Gun. The Lincoln Center piece, which ultimately develops into a Russian-ballet-music version of "I Could Have Danced All Night," seems warmed over; not unlike a poor sketch from "The Carol Burnett Show."
That could be said for much of the second disc; it does seem like just another weekly installment of Carol's weekly show, with Julie Andrews as special guest. (Part of what the material on the first disc has that the second doesn't is the sharpness of Mike Nichols; Carol's TV team — headed by Ken and Mitzi Welch — wrote the second show. Which was produced by Hamilton, who by then was married to Burnett.)
Also missing on the second special is the presence of musical director/arranger/orchestrator Irv Kostal, who served as the musical common denominator between the stars. Kostal had helped sculpt the sound of Burnett over the Gary Moore years, as well as for the 1961 solo LP "Carol Burnett Remembers How They Stopped the Show." He went back even further with Andrews, as conductor/arranger of her 1957 and 1958 solo albums. (He would continue working with Andrews after the Carnegie Hall show, on "Mary Poppins" and "The Sound of Music.")
The first special includes an extended parody of The Sound of Music called "The Pratt Family," this from the time before Andrews was hired to play Maria. (Having just been passed over for the film adaptation of My Fair Lady, the pre-Poppins Andrews must have seemed a longshot for The Sound of Music.) The song corresponding to "Do-Re-Mi" is here entitled "Ding Dong Yum Yum Yum," which gives you an idea of the artfulness of the piece. The song is credited to Welch and Nichols, who must have been happy to leave lyric-writing behind. Even so, I imagine it was much funnier watching Julie and Carol do this sketch than it is to simply hear it.
The showpiece of the 1962 act is a nine-minute "History of Musical Comedy." This is a super-medley, presumably devised by Kostal, incorporating 25 show tunes — sometimes sung in counterpoint — ranging from Victor Herbert on. Andrews is perfect with this sort of material, while Burnett pretty much munches on the lyrics in hilarious manner. (Did this sketch, by itself, win her that Emmy?) The thing builds to "A Boy Like That," with Carol singing Anita in a manner that is well-nigh indescribable. Just when you are bursting with laughter, they move into Julie's glorious "I Have a Love." From absurd to glorious in a few bars, the medley is quite something.
The 1971 concert attempts to recreate the magic with a 14-minute "Medley of the 60s," incorporating 47 songs from the Beatles on. This sounds like a couple of upper crust establishment superstars trying hard to sound groovy, with Peter Matz at the podium. All of which is to say that "Julie Andrews/Carol Burnett: The CBS Television Specials" is at once delightful and somewhat manufactured. But the Carnegie Hall half — which ends with a hokey version of Frank Loesser's "Big D" — is highly entertaining.
Visit PlaybillStore.com to view theatre-related recordings for sale.Continued...