Monday, February 20, 2012

Cole Porter's "Aladdin" (1958) - a review by Robert Steven Mack

Having a four-day weekend is always tough on us hard-working students. We have to know how to spend those days without a schedule: how do we start, and how do we finish it? I was strangely adamant about what I wanted to do, however. It was Friday, and I was glad I didn't have to wake up at the usual hour and endure the usual morning procedure. Not that I don't like it, you understand; for if you were to assume that, it would be entirely incorrect. It's just that I wasn't feeling up to it that day - as I also hadn't the day before that to be sure. It has been particularly trying that day as I would have normally been in school. So you can imagine how relieved I felt to be freely walking down Beverly Drive that day with my mother, at one time fishing through her bag for any one of her daily accessories.

Simply put, I was going to the William S. Paley Center formerly known as The Museum of Broadcasting or the Museum of Television and Radio. It is a place dedicated to preserving and acknowledging a medium of our society which has, since the twentieth century been so culturally significant to us. I like to go there whenever I can to view something extraordinary from its vast collection. Having just completed another Debbie Reynold's auction in December and currently getting ready for a Warner Bros. Television exhibit, the place would hardly fit the definition of busy. Apart from that everything in their television collection is in the process is being digitalized but we could still access what we wanted. Playing the Genie in an Aladdin musical, I wanted something to watch a TV show on that. That's where the fun began. The attendant helping us said they had a Cole Porter television play from 1958 taking place in China. I decided it would be interesting to view and asked for it.

Indeed, the Cole Porter version of Aladdin was a very different version than the well-known Disney film, yet very enjoyable and extremely well told. Between station breaks of the 90 minute musical I saw commercials from DuPont Chemicals -the play was a DuPont-sponsored Show of the Month. It's so refreshing to see the national pride and care people took in presenting television advertisements in those days. I noticed that DuPont did not treat the audience as the public, but as a customer.

The Porter version of the Aladdin musical showed a more mystic genie, an impetuous love-sick Aladdin, an uncle who wasn't his uncle at all but a cunning villain playing purely for power, and a loving mother constantly at worry...along with other fun, well played characters. Being the last musical Cole Porter would work on, the numbers are crisp, catchy, and wonderfully appropriate for the story telling its own version of Aladdin. In the cast is Cyril Ritchard, Dennis King, Basil Rathbone, Anna Maria Alberhetti, Geoffrey Holder (the Genie), Howard Morris, and Sal Mineo as Aladdin -plus the housekeeper from the original Parent Trap film playing Aladdin's mother. It is interesting to note that in those days they would use American and British actors to play most of the Chinese parts. It worked out well so I won't make needless discussions on that topic.

Though performed on stage once in the late fifties and released as an album a few times, this particular Aladdin show has never been released on home video or DVD. Luckily, it is available at the two Paley Media Centers in tourist-attracting cities , both New York City and Beverly Hills, CA. That my friends is a break for society! A final parting word of fact: After the show was finished, an advertisement came up announcing that the next DuPont Show of the Month would be on Charles Dicken's A Tale of Two Cites , also with distinguished actors and director and that Leave It to Beaver would not be playing that night due to the airing of this special. Now that's television at its best!

Copyright 2012 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

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