Entertainment » Music

Androcles And The Lion - Original TV Cast Recording

by Steven Bergman
Contributor
Tuesday Jun 17, 2014
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In 1966, NBC approached famed composer Richard Rodgers to take part in a musical retelling of George Bernard Shaw’s adaptation on the ancient fable, "Androcles and the Lion." The final televised production, featuring a book by Peter Stone ("1776," "Titanic: the Musical") came and went into musical obscurity. Now, Masterworks Broadway has dusted off this diamond in all its flaws, and made it available for reevaluation. We can see firsthand why the work has remained buried for almost 50 years.

The idea showed promise, with a first rate cast that included Ed Ames (Ferrovius), Noël Coward (Caesar), Norman Wisdom (Androcles), Brian Bedford (Lentulus), and the young lovers played by two stars who would go on to shine brightly, Inga Swenson and John Cullum. Rodgers, unfortunately, had not been able to find an acceptable lyricist replacement for the deceased Oscar Hammerstein, and decided to take on the position himself. Stone was constantly under the thumb of the Shaw estate when creating the book for this piece. Additionally, the source material proved challenging: Shaw’s conversion of an innocent fable into a personal comment of religious validity may have been more effective had it not contained such juvenile text as "Did um get an awful thorn into um’s tootsums wootsums?" These elements all contributed to a problematic product that could not be saved, regardless of the strength of the cast.

And the cast certainly tried their best. The love between Cullum’s Captain and Swenson’s Lavinia manages to peak through on their two ballads, "Strangers" and "No More Waiting," but Rodgers’ lyrics don’t sufficiently raise the conflicting stakes of these two romantics forever separated by their respective beliefs. Ames proves a strong bass-baritone on his songs, "A Fine Young Man" and "Follow In Our Footsteps," but both Wisdom and Bedford prove vocally effeminate, and provide no force to contrast Ames’ character’s point of view.

Much credit should be given to Masterworks Broadway for continuing to bring these obscure recordings to dawn, but "Androcles and the Lion" can stay hidden.

"Androcles and the Lion"
Richard Rodgers / Peter Stone
CD and digital formats
Masterworks Broadway

Steven Bergman is a Composer / Playwright / Performing Arts Educator based outside of Boston, MA.

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