BRUCE KIMMEL / KRITZERLAND RECORDS (2008)
Interviewed in June for Kritzerland’s latest CD release, the original recording for Stephen Sondheim’s Evening Primrose, label bigwig Bruce Kimmel provides some backgound on this rare Sondheim work that’s pretty much been hidden from view since it’s telecast in 1966 on ABC, as part of the network’s short-lived Studio 67 series.
Starring a post-Psycho Anthony Perkins and Charmian Carr, herself fresh from The Sound of Music stage and film versions, Evening Primrose was directed by Paul Bogart (Marlowe), scripted by James Goldman from John Collier’s 1951 short story, and Sondheim’s music was arranged by Norman Paris, with a young David Shire assisting.
Mark R. Hasan: Had you heard of ABC Stage 67 or were you already aware of Stephen Sondheim’s version of John Collier’s Evening Primrose?
Bruce Kimmel: I guess I’ll admit that not only did I know about ABC Stage 67, I actually watched [Burt Bacharach and Hal David's On The Flip Side] when it was aired. I didn’t seePrimrose back then – I learned of it as most did from that Sondheim Tribute album of the early 1970s.
MRH: The series, I take it, hasn’t been seen on TV since it aired from 1966-1967, and I wonder if it was harder to negotiate a commercial release of the score instead of a feature film?
BK: People have been talking about releasing this for years, but, for whatever reasons, it hadn’t happened. I just decided to take the bull by the horns a few months ago, and I guess the planets were aligned in a pleasing way and it all came together very quickly.
MRH: Kritzerland’s CD features songs and instrumental cues from the episode, and I think film music fans, either unfamiliar with Sondheim’s music or perhaps those biased against musicals, will be surprised by the score’s dramatic potency. What aspects of the score do you find most unique to Sondheim’s work?
BK: What I find most interesting about both songs and underscore, is that it just puts to rest any of this endless bushwa about Sondheim not being a real melodist. The tunes in Evening Primrose are great. And the way they’re used in the underscore is really interesting – whether that’s Sondheim or the arranger, Norman Paris, or musical associate David Shire, I know not – but the music is all Sondheim, and one wishes he’d done more film scores - Stavisky (1974) is a wonderful piece of work.
MRH: Probably the biggest surprise (at least for myself) is how well Anthony Perkins sings, and it’s easy to forget the actor had years of training on the stage, tackling all kinds of roles. Do you know if the Sondheim episode was well-received, and whether viewers were able to accept Perkins as a poet and lover in spite of the huge shadow of Norman Bates from Psycho (1960) that undoubtedly lingered?
BK: Perkins had done several solo albums for RCA in the 1950s and they’re terrific (and available on some import CDs), plus he’d done Frank Loesser’s Greenwillow on Broadway. And, of course, he was slated to be the original Bobby in Company. I really like his voice – very easygoing, and his phrasing is wonderful. I’ve actually never seen any reviews of the show that were written at the time. I think by the time of Primrose, Perkins was not quite so Bates-centric, but it was a huge shadow that would follow him all his life.
MRH: Were the handful of songs integrated with lengthy dialogue exchanges, or was Evening Primrose dramatized almost like a silent film, with music, visual atmosphere, and songs propelling the plot?
BK: I think the songs and the structure of the show are totally integrated – it’s really a nice adaptation of Collier’s short story – the writing’s a little arch at times, but arch sort of suits it.
MRH: The episode’s finale feels like a rather cruel Twilight Zone capper, and it’s pretty daring for TV, yet one can see traces of shock and tragedy in Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. Why do you think Sondheim was attracted to such potent tales and imagery?
BK: The show does play like a musical Twilight Zone episode (one thinks of “The After Hours” from that show – the show about the mannequins with Anne Francis). I think most writers are attracted to stories that have great imagery and strength – it makes their job much more fun and interesting, and Steve really seems to respond to that sort of thing.
MRH: You mention in the CD liner notes how the TV series was up against The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres, two shows that were pretty much the intellectual opposites ofStage 67. Do you think ABC was trying to balance the network’s portfolio by attempting such a unique series – hour-long dramatic musicals based on popular and daring literary works – or was it perhaps a concept leftover from the live TV era that had limited chances of succeeding because viewers had grown wary of increasingly brutal national and world events, and wanted vacuous, predictable escapism on TV?
BK: I think Stage 67 was a noble idea – nobody tuned in – they wanted escape and The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres were thirty minutes of non-thinking escape. But Stage 67 was a lot more than musicals – the show had some really good hour-long dramas – like Sam Peckinpah’s adaptation of Katherine Ann Porter’s Noon Wine, and Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory. It’s too bad it didn’t catch on, though. Can you imagine how much fun it would have been to have more original musicals on TV every season? That said, Evening Primrose was the high point of the musicals they did – none of the others came close to it.
MRH: With Evening Primrose now on CD, do you think the album might shine some attention on this buried TV series, and perhaps rescue the episode, if not the series, from oblivion?
BK: Sadly, the master elements from the taped shows were, most likely, erased, in one of ABC’s then-usual cost-cutting measures – they’d recycle their master tapes! Only the filmed shows have survived. The only version of Primrose in existence is a 16mm kinescope currently housed at The Museum of Television and Radio in New York. So, for all intents and purposes the show is indeed lost, at least the taped episodes. We’ll never see Evening Primrose the way it was broadcast – on color videotape. There are some other taped shows from that era that would be great to see again, including the musical TV series, That’s Life, with Robert Morse and E.J. Peaker – a weekly musical comedy series. Lost. But at least we have the kinescope of Primrose, although I doubt it will ever see the light of a proper release.
KQEK.com would like to thank Bruce Kimmel for replying to our retentive questions.
To visit the Kritzerland’s website, hear audio samples, and order this limited CD, click HERE.
For further information on the various editions of Evening Primrose on CD, click HERE.
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This article and interview © 2008 by Mark R. Hasan
CD: Evening Primrose (1966)
DVD / Film: Evening Primrose (1966)
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Interview: Bruce Kimmel (2010)
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