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Radio: Revolution in Sight?

3 minute read

The American National Theatre & Academy last week staged the first trial marriage of Broadway and closed-circuit television, with its fifth Album played live in Manhattan and over coaxial cable to 31 specially leased movie houses across the U.S. As with most trial marriages, the blessings were mixed, the future a hodge-podge of uncertainties.

Produced by ANTA’s Gilbert Miller, with CARE as co-beneficiary, Album served up a two-hour, hot-to-cold potpourri of Broadway bits and pieces. Some of the players were topnotch: Helen Hayes in A Christmas Tie, Saroyan’s one-act Omnibus comedy about a small-town lady crackpot; Ruth Draper’s monologue about a Scottish immigrant at Ellis Island; Pianist-Comedian Victor Borge’s skillfully timed spoofing of Mozart and Manhattan traffic (“Every empty taxi you see has somebody in it”); and Songstress Lena Home’s high-tension version of The Lady Is a Tramp. Best of all: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’s Barbara Bel Geddes and Bus Stop’s Kim Stanley in a brace of crackling scenes (specially “blended” for the occasion) from their respective plays.

But much of Album was haphazard. Comic Henry Morgan, acting as co-master of ceremonies, behaved as if he had hardly bothered to learn his cues, let alone his gags; his partner, British Actor Cyril (Peter Pan) Ritchard, ran his oh-so-English witticisms into the ground. The choreography was raggedly routine, the chorus breathless in its singing. The TV camera seemed to add unbecoming extra poundage to plumpish Martha Wright, singing I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy. Televised in black and white, no matter how magnified the screen, Album became a blurry, uneven adaptation of TV’s own Toast of the Town.

Thanks to poor advance promotion and timing (Monday night, 10:30 E.S.T.), Album filled fewer than half the 80,000 seats (at $2 to $10 a head) in the participating movie houses from Boston to Los Angeles. In most cities, notably Houston and Atlanta, it caused hardly a ripple of interest. Estimated gross intake: $195,000, barely enough to pay expenses.

Does Album’s box-office flop mean that Broadway and closed-circuit TV are financially incompatible? On closed-circuit TV, the Metropolitan Opera (TIME, Nov. 25) did poorly; championship prizefights, e.g., the Marciano-Charles bout (TIME, Sept. 27), fared better. With stepped-up promotion and the advent of color TV, can Broadway whet a new, nationwide appetite for the theater? Or will Broadway hits suffer on Broadway and on the road after being shown on TV? Said Trade Sheet Variety last week: “Whatever the effects, they loom as revolutionary.”

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