Perhaps inspired by the annual TV broadcast of MGM'S "The Wizard Of Oz", the three major television networks (CBS, NBC, and ABC) used to comission family-oriented Made-for-TV musicals. These were preserved on videotape and shown every year, usually around the November/December holidays; as truly "Special Events." Alas, these "TV musical Special Events" belong to a TV era that vanished long ago. Along with MGM's "The Wizard Of Oz," there were also annual broadcasts of Mary Martin as "Peter Pan" (NBC, preserved for posterity on videotape in 1960) and Lesley Ann Warren as "Cinderella" ( CBS; 1965). While NBC'S 1966 musical adaptation of "Alice Through The Looking-Glass" may not have achieved perennial status, aspects of it lingered in my childhood memory. I remember viewing this once or twice; and being scared to death by Jack Palance as the "Jabberwock." I also recall an RCA Victor Soundtrack Album of the songs by Moose Charlap (co-writer of the songs for Mary Martin's "Peter Pan") and Elsie Simmons. The songs include "Two Sides To Everything," "Keep On The Grass", "Some Summer Day", "Who Am I?," "The Backwards Alphabet" and "Alice Is Coming To Tea". Stepping back through the Looking-Glass with Alice again was like re-discovering a lost gem from my childhood.
The production, featuring extremely lavish costumes by Bob Mackie. unfolds very much like a live Broadway musical-- except it is on videotape. The canned laughter and applause aren't nearly as distracting as they might seem to be; actually giving the production a bit more nostalgic value. The libretto by Albert Simmons is more "Suggested By" Lewis Carroll's "Through The Looking-Glass" than directly "Based Upon" it. Alice (Judi Rolin) steps through the looking-glass into topsy-turvy Looking Glass Land. After meeting the Red King and Queen (Robert Coote, from the Original Broadway Cast of "My Fair Lady" and "Camelot"; and Agnes Moorehead) ; and The White King and Queen (celebrated comedienne Nannette Fabray and "Fantasy Island's" charming Ricardo Montalban). Alice decides she wants to be a Queen herself. The inhabitants of Looking-Glass Land live in fear of The Jabberwock (a genuinely frightening performance by Jack Palance). Fearless Alice is determined to arrive at the Palace and be crowned Queen; thereby ending the Jabberwock's reign of terror. Simmons adds a character named Lester The Jester, (delightfully portrayed by Roy Castle) who occasionally guides Alice through Looking-Glass Land and protects her from the Jabberwock. There is incredible chemistry between Judi Rolin and Roy Castle; resulting in a suggestion of romantic attraction between Alice and Lester. The final moments, where Jack Palance's Jabberwock screams at Alice from inside the Looking-Glass, still scare me. The perfectly cast production also includes Tom and Dick Smothers as Tweeledee and Tweedledum and Jimmy Durante as Humpty Dumpty.
Judi Rolin gives an extraordinary performance as Alice, and she more than holds her own in a cast filled with show-business heavyweights; most notably Agnes Moorehead; (best-known for her role as the imposing grand-dame witch Endora on the TV classic "Bewitched"). In other film and TV adaptations, the very British Alice often comes across as snobby or-- much worse-- bland. But Judi Rolin's American Alice, free of annoying affectation and mannerisims, is brave, authoritive, vibrant, and enchanting.
On the DVD Extras, producer Bob Wynn shares his memories of the "Looking-Glass" cast and production; and also his memories of working with such show-business superstars as Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra.