Notes and Editorial Reviews
Alfred Drake and Doretta Morrow star in this made-for-TV musical about the adventures of Marco Polo, with songs and dance numbers based on themes by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Cast also includes Paul Ukena, Ross Martin, and Jerome Kilty. Hailed by The New York Times as “an eye-filling version of a fascinating story, accompanied...by superior music,” Marco Polo is rich in songs and exotic novelty numbers, and offers a rare opportunity to see the beautiful Doretta Morrow in performance. B&W, 80 minutes, 4:3, All regions MARCO POLO
Music by Clay Warnick and Mel Pahl, based on themes by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Book by William Friedberg and Neil Simon
Lyrics by Edward Eager
Book Staged by Milton Lyon
and Musical Numbers staged by James Starbuck
Musical Conductor: Charles Sanford
Arrangements by Irwin Kostal
Produced and Directed by Max Liebman
Marco Polo: Alfred Drake
Beggar Girl / Souchon / Kokochin / Chentu: Doretta Morrow
Kublai Khan: Paul Ukena
Nicolo Polo, Marco’s father: Arnold Moss
Mafeo Polo, Marco’s uncle: George Mitchell
Baron: Ross Martin
Baron’s Son: Jerome Kilty
Featured Dancer: Beatrice Kraft
Chinese Plate Twirler: Bobby Chang
Sword Swallowers: Martin Bros.
Whirling Dervish: Bhasker
Pyramid Worshippers: Wazzan Troupe
Achmid: Ray Drakely
Philosopher: Arnold Moss
Servant: Jack Ringstag
Live telecast of April 14, 1956
A unique phenomenon of television in the 1950s was the amount of programming devoted to the Broadway musical. Legendary stars like Alfred Drake, Patricia Morison, Mary Martin, Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, and Rosalind Russell were given the chance to recreate their great roles for what were called television “spectaculars.” In some instances original musicals, written for television, were given the same elaborate treatment. An important entry in this second category was the musical adventure Marco Polo, here available for the first time on DVD.
Presented by Max Liebman and televised live on April 14, 1956, Marco Polo bears more than a passing resemblance to the hit 1953 Broadway musical Kismet, although in this case, rather than the music of Borodin, the music is adapted from another Russian composer, Nikolai Rimksy-Korsakov (1844-1908). The score features melodic references to works such as Scheherazade and the Antar Symphony, as well as to lesser-known compositions of the great Russian master. As with Kismet, the lush romantic melodies are combined with hot ’50s musical stylings; the effect is delightful. And three of the stars of Kismet are reunited in Marco Polo: Alfred Drake and Doretta Morrow, along with the talented dancer Beatrice Kraft.
Any television program that allows us to see Alfred Drake (1914-1992) in his prime is worth having on that account alone. Drake, the great star of Oklahoma! and Kiss Me, Kate, sings with a rare musical elegance, and he is clearly enjoying himself in this production. He brings an almost Schubertian grace to this music; his singing of the “Epilogue” should be required listening for lovers of bel canto. There perhaps has never been another male Broadway star with the prodigious talents of Alfred Drake, who excelled in so many areas of the performing arts.
The beautiful and talented Doretta Morrow created roles in three major Broadway musicals: Where’s Charley? (1948) with Ray Bolger; the original production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I where her portrayal of the doomed slave girl Tuptim is probably unequalled; and the afore-mentioned Kismet in 1953. Morrow also appeared in the film Because You’re Mine (opposite Mario Lanza) and was a great favorite on television. Just prior to this production of Marco Polo both she and Drake had repeated their successes in Kismet, in the first London production. Morrow, who was a cousin to the celebrated singer Vic Damone, died quite young, in 1968, at the age of 41, some years after having retired from the stage to raise a family. While her ravishing voice and distinctive singing style are captured on a number of recordings, visual documents of Morrow in live performance, such as this Marco Polo, are rare and precious.
The plot of Marco Polo concerns the famed Venetian traveler and is adapted from a journal he kept of his travels throughout Asia where he visited the court of Kublai Khan. The exotic setting enabled the Kismet stars to remain “in the colorful and mysterious lands of the East,” to quote the liner notes for the Columbia LP recording, made two weeks prior to the telecast (and advertised for sale following the closing credits). The book, written by Liebman veterans Neil Simon and William Friedberg, carries the story along with wit and humor. The New York Times found that Marco Polo possessed an even more valid story line than Kismet and complimented the production for its “eye-filling” qualities and “beguiling” story, while appreciating the lavish scenery and production values. Edward Eager (who it is said was brought into the production by Alfred Drake) was singled out for his “bright” lyrics. Eager was a noted writer of children’s books as well as a playwright and librettist. He later worked with Alfred Drake on an adaptation of Rugantino (1964).
The task of assembling the Rimsky-Korsakov melodies was placed in the capable hands of Clay Warnick and Mel Pahl, the team responsible for all of Liebman’s musical adaptations. Clay Warnick was both a composer and vocal arranger. Among his Broadway credits are the vocal arrangements for Donnybrook! (1961) and Little Me (1962). Mel Pahl worked on the television productions of Lady in the Dark and The Desert Song, and on Broadway in This is the Army. Special mention must be made of the superb orchestrations of Academy Award winner Irwin Kostal, a Hollywood legend with numerous film scores to his credit, including The Sound of Music (1965).
Nearly fifty years after its initial airing, Marco Polo remains a tremendously enjoyable production to watch, and repeated viewings yield further appreciation of its many musical and theatrical virtues.
Notes by George Dansker  Read less
Works on This Recording
The Adventures of Marco Polo by Clay Warnick
Doretta Morrow (Voice),
Alfred Drake (Voice),
Arnold Moss (Voice),
Paul Ukena (Baritone),
George Mitchell (Voice),
Ross Martin (Voice),
Jerome Kilty (Voice)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1956; USA
Notes: This work was written in collaboration with Mel Pahl after themes by Rimsky-Korsakov.
Be the first to review this title