THE DVD SHELF: Vintage TV Musicals "Marco Polo" and "Babes in Toyland," Plus "The Quiet Man"

By Steven Suskin
10 Mar 2013

Alfred Drake

Lyrics came from Edward Eager, presumably at the behest of Drake. Eager had written the book (in collaboration with Drake) and lyrics for the 1950 flop The Liar; he also collaborated with Drake on the 1952 flop The Gambler, from the play by Ugo Betti. Neither music nor lyrics of "Marco Polo" are especially singable or memorable, which is death to this sort of venture. Many of the song slots appear closely patterned on examples from Kismet, which gives the whole thing a canned feeling. That said, Rimsky-Korsakov comes through in two songs. "The Garden of Imagining" is a witty, jazzy item which more or less corresponds to Kismet's "Rahadlakum," goosed along by a colorful orchestration by Irv Kostal. They have also made a fair enough ballad ("Is it You?") for Drake and Morrow out of one of the main "Scheherazade" themes.

The major attraction here is Drake; he gives a commanding performance in spite of the material. What we get is a combination of his two greatest starring roles, Petruchio (from Kiss Me, Kate) and Hajj (from Kismet). And a big goatee, too. Alfred is just about 40, here, in full control of his singing voice and his acting. His Marco gives a full indication of just how powerful a stage performer he could be.

Ms. Morrow, on the other hand, is not quite what you might imagine; for one thing, she looks bigger than one would expect from photos of her in Where's Charley?, The King and I and Kismet. Nor does she have the charm one expects she must have had onstage; when she and Alfred are dueting, you look at Alfred. Maybe she just had an off night, which I suppose occasionally happened in the days of live TV. She can sing, though; this is the voice that launched "I Have Dreamed" and "Stranger in Paradise," among others.

Elsewhere we have another Kismet alumni, featured dancer Beatrice Kraft. She is very good here in two exotic numbers; she has the Jack Cole moves down pat, enough to have enabled her to choreograph her numbers — featuring members of her own dance company — in proper Cole style. The non-Kraft choreography by James Starbuck, though, is beyond weak. The first act closer, "The Tartar Dance," in fact, is laughably bad. Starbuck has the fierce members of Genghis Khan's court doing American Injun stuff mixed with calisthenics and something that looks like it will in ten years time turn into The Monkey or The Frug.

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