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The people are gone. The doors are locked. Darkness descends inside a department store. Fleeing the pressures of the outside world, an unhappy poet is at last alone. But not for long. In his newfound sanctuary, he comes across a group of hermits who have been hiding there for years. Among them is a young girl with whom he falls in love.
Specially created for television, Evening Primrose aired only once on ABC Stage 67. Starring Anthony Perkins and Charmian Carr, the production featured a teleplay adapted by James Goldman (from a short story by John Collier) and a score that included some of Stephen Sondheim’s most hauntingly beautiful songs – among them “I Remember” and “Take Me to the World.”
This long-lost treasure is now available for the first time ever – impeccably restored and re-mastered from a newly discovered, pristine kinescope print.
INCLUDES OVER 80 MINUTES OF BONUS FEATURES
Newly recorded video interview with director Paul Bogart
Newly recorded audio interview with Charmian Carr
Paul Bogart’s full color test footage with Anthony Perkins
28-page booklet with contributions by Stephen Sondheim and Jane Klain of the Paley Center for Media
A rare television find, Evening Primrose is a 1966 musical that aired on ABC Stage 1967 and is most notable for its music and lyrics by a young Stephen Sondheim. Anthony Perkins plays Charles, a poet who takes refuge from the outside world in a department store, only to find it already inhabited by a group of hermits called dark men. Among them is a young woman named Ella (Charmian Carr) who has lived in the store since the age of 6. She and Charles fall in love and try to leave the store, but find resistance from the store residents, led by Mrs. Monday (Dorothy Stickney) and Rosco Potts (Larry Gates). The 52-minute black-and-white program was based on a story by John Collier and adapted by James Goldman, and the four songs are distinctively Sondheim, early in his career but after his Broadway shows A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Anyone Can Whistle. The best song, "I Remember," became famous in Sondheim compilations and concerts, but many people first heard all four in a 1990 recording by Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters. Perkins, a friend of Sondheim, isn't a great singer, but navigates the score well, showing why he was in the early discussions of casting for Company. And Carr, fresh off her role as Liesl in The Sound of Music, is appealing enough as the imperiled heroine. In 1973, Sondheim and Perkins collaborated to write the non-musical mystery movie The Last of Sheila --David Horiuchi
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Having known little of life outside of the department store, Ella longs to escape into the larger world, a world that Charles has roundly rejected. Her longing for a world beyond juxtaposed against Charles love (and isn't the poet's love the most quickly acquired?) and the rigid social order established by the xenophobic dowager, set the stage for this unique and imaginative musical featuring wonderful performances including a rare singing role by Anthony Perkins ("Psycho") and Charmian Carr ("The Sound of Music").
Presumably recorded live, Evening Primrose is delightful story about love, fear, and longing, as well as a fascinating artifact from Televisions Golden Age. It was well worth the rental fee from Amazon Instant video. Take a break from crime procedurals, super-hero shows, and comedies for one night, and give "Evening Primrose" a try, you'll be glad you did.
Evening Primrose, first and only once broadcast in 1966, was an early musical effort by Stephen Sondheim, master of the musical theatre of the 1970's and beyond. Of course, Mr. Sondheim had had earlier stage successes - West Side Story, Gypsy, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum - and a few famous flops -Anyone Can Whistle, a legendary show, and Do I Hear A Waltz, one of the few Sondheim scores I still can't listen to, even to this day. But this was Mr. Sondheim's first musical effort for television, and what I had not realized before was that Evening Primrose boasted a book by James Goldman, who also wrote the book for my favorite Sondheim musical, Follies, and the play that became my favorite film, The Lion in Winter.
Armed with this knowledge, I looked eagerly forward to the release of the newly discovered and restored original kinescope of Evening Primrose, promised for the past six months and pushed back at least once. I received it yesterday, and watched it tonight with a few friends. What satisfaction! What a bizarre, Sondheim-esque experience!
The plot is simple. Anthony Perkins plays an idealistic poet, fed up with the world, who decides one day to hide out in a department store, where he will live in secret and work in an endlessly "inspiring" environment. Much to his surprise, after concealing himself in Sterns Department Store after closing, he finds that there is a community of like-minded (or are they?) individuals who have been doing the same thing for decades. Led by the eccentric Mrs. Monday, the department store people lead lives of rigid rules and constant fear, hoping against hope that they can live their days undiscovered and uninvolved in the world.
This 50-minute musical will not be to everyone's taste. Like it or not, it is essentially a horror story, with a shocking ending that younger viewers may not be able to believe could have been unleashed on an unsuspecting television audience in 1966. The cast, led by Anthony Perkins and Charmian Carr, is uniformly excellent, but aside from the young lovers, Dorothy Stickney stands out as Mrs. Monday, the formidable matriarch of the hidden community.
Surreal to the max, the best surprise was how simply and charmingly the leads deftly handled the intricate score, which, although containing a few of Sondheim's least-polished melodies, nevertheless proffered some very real portends of things to come, lyrically. Especially satisfying were the two celebrated songs, Take Me to the World and the earlier mentioned I Remember. I finished watching the DVD two hours ago, and I can't seem to get either melody out of my head.
Rounding out the DVD package are a generous offering of extras, including complete lyrics, a written introduction by Mr. Sondheim, essays, an interview with director Paul Bogart and more. A feast for Sondheim fans, James Goldman fans and lovers of musical theatre history, Evening Primrose is highly recommended.