“From Benny Herrmann, and his band of merry melodians!”

Belated holiday greetings from a slightly self-imposed exile. Figuring most people were struggling to get through the heavy/wet/neverending snowfall during the days leading up to (and perhaps including) Christmas, as well as having zero time beyond family commitments to read, I’ve held back posts until today, meaning there’ll be almost a new set of reviews every day, through New Year’s Day.

The first reviews are focused on (uh, surprise) Christmas, and it starts with a review of a vintage fifties teleplay, where director Ralph Levy directed Fredric March in Maxwell Anderson’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Featuring music by Bernard Herrmann and a libretto by Anderson, the one hour drama was part of Chrysler’s Shower of Stars show, and included Basil Rathbone as the Ghost of Marley, and Sally Fraser as ex-luv Belle/Ghost of Chrismas Past before she became a bit of a cult icon in low (low!) budget sci-fi flicks.

Herrmann had previously scored Orson Welles' 1938 adaptation of Dickens' classic (hence the Wellesian sign-off in today's header), but the 1954 teleplay marked the first time he applied operatic songs as well as noew score to the beloved holiday tale.

Sticking to the mid-fifties and that era's fixation with noble morals and unabashed religious iconography (think of all those Biblical epics), there’s also a review of Herrmann's score, newly released on CD by Kritzerland, and double-billed with another holiday operetta, A Child is Born, which Herrmann based on Stephen Vincent Benet's play, and composed for this December 1955 episode of the General Electric Theatre.

Both scores were previously released on bootleg LPs which themselves drew from legit albums, and the good news is that the sound quality of the legit Kritzerland disc is a marked improvement. Carol apparently appeared as part of a multi-disc LP set from CBS, while Child was a classic Decca mono-drama mix, and one could regard these platters as early precursors to dramas released on VHS tapes and DVD.
Given the music was all that could be retained from these live teleplays in the fifties, the LPs were accessible, commercial ways for the average consumer to ‘relive’ the drama at home (which made sense, since radio dramas were still an active component of the home entertainment system).

Decca actually produced several holiday-themed mono-dramas, which included Ronald Coleman as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, Bing Crosby and Orson Welles in Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince, Loretta Young in The Littlest Angel, Gregory Peck in Lullaby of Christmas, and an edited soundtrack from The Coming of Christ, the NBC Project XX documentary featuring music by Robert Russell Bennett.

If I can squeeze time between less seasonal uploads this weekend, I’ll try and have reviews of at least a few of the aforementioned, too. (If not, hey, there’s Xmas ’09.)



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