There is no shortage of great performances of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s only musical created for television. Of course, there is the original 1957 CBS live telecast starring Julie Andrews, the recent Broadway show, a British panto starring Tommy Steele, a touring production with Eartha Kitt and the 1997 version starring Brandy and Whitney Houston.
Each version has its own special magic, but the 1965 version (now in its 30th anniversary year) starring Lesley Ann Warren has the distinction of being smack in the middle of an era spangled with full-color, escapist entertainment still dear to baby boomers. Premiering on February 22, 1965, the CBS special came along just as musicals—like Mary Poppins—seemed to be having a resurgence in Hollywood, and before such programming became passé in the minds of many.
Pat Carroll, who became legendary as the voice of The Little Mermaid’s Ursula (and the original Mother Magoo), was an oft-welcomed presence on series TV, game and talk shows. In this production, Carroll played one of the stepsisters. The other sister was played by Barbara Ruick, who appeared as Carrie (“Mr. Snow”) Pepperidge in the movie version of Carousel. Ruick was the wife of composer John Williams, who among other projects at the time, was scoring episodes of Gilligan’s Island and Lost in Space (and that's not a diss -- his work elevated both shows). Sadly, Ruick passed away in 1972, before she could experience Williams’ colossal success with Star Wars and his other sweeping movie scores. Oscar and Tony winner Jo Van Fleet (East of Eden), properly snooty as the Stepmother, gives the suitable impression that she constantly smells some very strong cheese.
R&H favorite Celeste Holm played the traditional fairy Godmother in 1965, in contrast to Edie Adams’ sassy fairy in the 1957 show. And the Prince was Stuart Damon, later to play Alan Quartermain on General Hospital (which included a “prince” nod in at least one script, maybe more). Damon reveals in the bonus documentary (from the previous DVD release) that Jack Jones dropped out of the show as the Prince, so he filled in at the last moment and it was a "Cinderella story" for him.
The production values, as far as the imaginative sets and costumes, is magnificent, but because TV was still relatively young, this videotaped production has some special effects that would make Electra Woman and Dynagirl sneer, especially the flying horses (from a Marx "Best of the West" playset?) and the final materialization of Holm, whose chroma-key glitch gives her have a "Max Headroom" spell.
No matter, the show is still first class and one of TV's all-time best, made back in a time when musical variety was still a major force. And the Columbia/Sony cast album is excellent, too, with a few bonus tracks on the CD/download and a great overture created just for the record by conductor Johnny Green.