Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Broadway on The Ed Sullivan Show

Living in New York City and hosting his show right off Broadway, Ed Sullivan was a big fan of musicals.   He often used The Ed Sullivan Show to promote Broadway musicals, giving his audience a front row seat to hit shows.  In addition to performers, Ed also liked to showcase the composers of his favorite Broadway musicals. 

This Saturday, March 19th, marks the 50th anniversary of The Ed Sullivan Show hosting a night of live Broadway performances as a tribute to composers Alan Jay Lerner and Fritz Loewe, who had created popular hit musicals including  My Fair Lady and Camelot.

Camelot on The Ed Sullivan Show 

For The Camelot segment of the Lerner & Loewe Sullivan episode, the audience was treated to some of show’s most memorable songs. Richard Burton and Julie Andrews, dressed in costumes as King Arthur and Guinevere, took to the stage. Burton recited King Arthur’s monologue before Andrews joined him in singing  a reprise of “Camelot.” The two stars of the show were followed by Alan Jay Lerner playing the piano with Fritz Loewe singing another composition from Camelot, “How to Handle a Woman.” The show continued with “If Ever I Would Leave You” performed by Robert Goulet.  Then Richard Burton and Julie Andrews closed the Camelot portion singing and dancing to “What Do The Simple Folk Do?” This Ed Sullivan Show episode featuring Camelot is the only footage that ever captured the musical’s original cast.   Here is a clip of Camelot from The Ed Sullivan Show:


My Fair Lady on The Ed Sullivan Show

The March 19, 1961 episode celebrated the 5 year anniversary of My Fair Lady’s Broadway premier. While talking with Ed Sullivan that night, Lerner and Lowes shared that the musical, based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, was almost never made. They originally didn’t think that the play would successfully translate into a musical. However, they decided to do  it after a few tweaks to the writing, which actually wove the father character, Alfred P. Doolittle, into the entire plot of the musical and gave us the unforgettable tune, “I Could Have Danced All Night.”

That evening on Ed Sullivan, actor Charles Victor performed “With a Little Bit of Luck” in full costume. Then, Julie Andrews brought Eliza Doolittle to life as she sang “Wouldn’t it be Loverly?” Melono Fabregas also performed “Why Can’t the English?” Julie Andrews then returned to close the show transforming from rags to riches to sing “I Could Have Danced All Night.” Here is a clip of My Fair Lady from The Ed Sullivan Show:

Julie Andrews once stated that “The Ed Sullivan Show was the most important showcase for the Broadway musical.” Gerald Nachman also discussed the importance of Ed Sullivan’s impact on Broadway in his book “Right Here on Our Stage Tonight! Ed Sullivan’s America,” saying “The Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe musical was mired in a sluggish run after the John Kennedy assassination months earlier, but after Julie Andrews and Richard Burton sang two duets on Sullivan’s show, a long line formed the next morning outside the Majestic Theater.”

Over the years Ed Sullivan Show created a Broadway musical archive that has preserved countless live performances. Ed Sullivan’s show presented around 400 performances from Broadway shows, and thanks to the gift of film and Ed Sullivan’s foresight we can still enjoy many of them.  Here is a DVD collection of Broadway musicals on The Ed Sullivan Show.