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EVENING PRIMROSE (1966).

In 1966, American TV took a lot of odd chances, with shows like BATMAN, THE MONKEES, DARK SHADOWS, and STAR TREK, and this one-shot, hour-long musical was equally unique for its era. Written by James Goldman (THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS, THE LION IN WINTER) and with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (a decade before Broadway successes such as SWEENEY TODD and COMPANY), it boasts an eerie premise and a quirky star, in the form of Anthony Perkins. Based on a 12-page story by John Collier (whose "Sleeping Beauty" was the basis for SOME KIND OF LOVING), Perkins plays frustrated poet and social misfit Charles Snell, who hides out in a massive New York City department store (the long-defunct Stern's on 42nd Street) as it's about to close. As the gates are locked and he's finally alone, Snell...breaks into song!: "Goodbye my friends, and good riddance. / Pardon while I disappear." Turning his back on the city's "bloodsucking landlords" and "neanderthal neighbors," Snell rejects humanity and decides to live in this spacious, well-stocked store instead. But this brilliant plan takes a sudden turn when Charles discovers that he's not alone after all -- the store is also the home of a secret society who pose as mannequins by day. Ruled by an elderly dowager named Mrs. Monday (longtime Broadway fixture Dorothy Stickney), Snell is accepted into their bourgeois world of old codgers (referred to as "dead leaves") who're afraid to embrace the present. We also come to the realization that Snell is a truly horrendous poet, but that doesn't stop him from pompously spouting fresh ideas whenever the muse hits him. He also soon falls for a pretty yet illiterate servant girl named Ella (played by THE SOUND OF MUSIC's Liesl Von Trapp, Charmian Carr) who resides in the lowly bargain basement. Ella has been trapped in the store since she was 6-years-old and fell asleep in the hat department, and ironically, just when the anti-social Snell has escaped from the real world, he finds his best reason to rejoin it. Meanwhile, the "dark men" are an ominous, unseen security force that makes sure the rules are followed. The workmanlike direction by Paul Bogart (HALLS OF ANGER) makes good use of its department store backdrop, and the early scenes of Perkins roaming the empty corridors and escalators are particularly effective. Although Tony isn't the most accomplished vocalist, he makes a likably goofy protagonist, such as when Snell takes Ella on a voyage into the 'outside world', via the store's Camping Department, along with fake animal sounds. The songs ("I Remember," "When," "Take Me To the World") are sweet yet rather sappy, but the overall concept is wonderfully odd -- think "Twilight Zone: The Musical" -- and although the music is occasionally revived (the most recent studio recording featured Neil Patrick Harris), I'm surprised no one has brought this bizarre, albeit slight concoction to the screen.

© 2005 by Steven Puchalski.