Evening Primrose

Television Cast, 1966 (Kritzerland) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) Stephen Sondheim provided a brief but compelling score for this TV musical with a teleplay by James Goldman, based on a short story by John Collier. It tells the odd tale of a struggling poet named Charles, who decides to retreat from society by remaining in a Manhattan department store after closing time; he apparently intends to remain there alone indefinitely, retreating to the store’s nether regions during business hours, but soon he comes upon a small group of people who have decided to do the same thing. Charles falls in love with Ella, a young woman who has lived in the store since early childhood and barely remembers the outside world. In the telecast, Charles was played by Anthony Perkins, Ella by Charmian Carr. No cast album was released until 2008, when Krizerland transferred the soundtrack recordings of the songs to CD. Since it was never a stage musical and is unlikely ever to be one, Evening Primrose doesn’t warrant a lengthy review here, but it must be said that the four-song score contains two of the best ballads Sondheim ever wrote: Ella’s touching reminiscence “I Remember,” and the gorgeous duet “Take Me to the World.” Perkins, who had not very successfully tried his hand as a musical theater leading man in the 1960 Broadway show Greenwillow, is well cast and persuasive as Charles, while Carr, best known for her performance as Liesl in the mega-hit film version of The Sound of Music, is a plaintive Ella. The mid-’60s monaural sound quality of the recording is not great but acceptable. [Note: The full, 52-minute telecast is available separately on home video.] — Michael Portantiere

Studio Cast, 2001 (Nonesuch) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) The first part of this essential album contains the first commercial recordings of the songs that Sondheim wrote for The Frogs (see separate review, under that title). The second part is devoted to his even-briefer score for Evening Primrose, the 1966 TV musical that concerns the drop-out poet Charles’s encounter with, as Frank Rich phrases it in his notes for this recording, “a mysterious nocturnal society of eccentric shut-ins as well as the muse he’s been searching for, a sort of modern Rapunzel named Ella.” Here, Charles and Ella are sung by Neil Patrick Harris and Theresa McCarthy. Both do fine jobs of delivering the highlights of this mini-musical that are mentioned in the review above, as well as the score’s only other two numbers: Charles’s character-establishing “If You Can Find Me, I’m Here” and the extended duet “When?” All of the songs benefit greatly from Jonathan Tunick’s typically superb orchestrations as played by the American Theatre Orchestra under the baton of Sondheim specialist Paul Gemignani. The CD boasts Nonesuch’s usual, first-rate recorded sound: powerful but not harsh, ambient but not overly reverberant, with great dynamic range. — M.P.