`Tis the season to be jolly, and a really jolly way to enjoy this season is with Video Artist's International release of The Stingiest Man in Town. VAI is famous for bringing us TV treats from the `50s, and this musical bon-bon will keep you smiling.
Broadcast on December 23, 1956, it's based on the Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol that would have been fit for Broadway. The music and lyrics are by Fred Spielman and Janice Torre, who've given us not only "Paper Roses", but also tunes sung by Melchior, Presley and Garland. The production values are superb; the video is a tad grainy or jumpy here and there, but for a TV show more than 50 years old, it's in remarkable condition.
What's most remarkable is the cast. Basil Rathbone sheds his pipe, violin and Dr. Watson persona to play the infamous Scrooge, and he is absolutely outstanding. Singing, dancing and snarling his way through this live broadcast, it's unfortunate his talent didn't grace more musicals. He's thoroughly credible, making the transition between the stingiest man in town to the most generous, happy and joyful with an ease and a style that's just wonderful to watch.
Rathbone is supported by some of the great talents of the period. Robert Weede, from Broadway's The Most Happy Fella and the Metropolitan Opera plays Marley's ghost (in a costume that frankly makes him look like a nun in chain bondage); from the Met we also have Patrice Munsel, who was in any number of musical television broadcasts. The Four Lads, the ultimate `50s pop group, narrate and play various chorus parts, and Johnny Desmond, fresh from replacing Sydney Chaplin in Funny Girl opposite Streisand, is nephew Fred. Only two peculiar notes are struck: Vic Damone, as the young Scrooge, gives the most wooden performance since he played the Caliph in the film Kismet, and Martyn Greene playing Crachit, yet singing only briefly in a duet with Rathbone. Why hire the premiere Gilbert and Sullivan singer of his day, and give him so little?
But why quibble? In a market fairly glutted with versions of this classic, one would have to be a real Scrooge not to check out the most recently released version. And, to paraphrase the words of that little fellow on his dad's should, "God bless us, everyone, especially VAI for releasing this great DVD!"