Cole Porter lost TV musical revived by Primrose Hill specialist

Ian Marshall Fisher has pieced together a lost version of Aladdin for the new Lost Musicals season

In 1958, CBS approached Cole Porter to write a musical for live television. After much deliberation (he had turned down My Fair Lady and a musical version of Sunset Boulevard), he agreed and teamed up with humorist Ron Perelman to create a one-off special of Aladdin for an audience of 100m viewers. It was to be Porter’s last show before he died.

Now, Primrose Hill-based Ian Marshall Fisher is reconstructing that performance to bring the musical to a British audience, as part of his 2012 Lost Musicals season.

“They probably chose Aladdin because the viewers could be anything from six years old to 60. The other problem was censorship. In 1958, there were lots of rules about what you could and couldn’t say and what you could and couldn’t suggest on television – as opposed to theatre,” says Marshall Fisher, who is currently in rehearsals with his cast at St Martin’s Church in Kentish Town. “The prospect filled Cole Porter with terror. He believed, in an age of Elvis and Little Richard, that he was out of fashion. TV was also frowned upon by Hollywood, which was frowned upon by the theatre crowd, so he really was taking a big risk doing it.”

Marshall Fisher worked with an entertainment law firm based in the US to piece together the unrecorded performance. Paul, Weiss, Rifkind Wharton & Garrison, which handled the affairs of Marilyn Monroe and Stephen Sondheim among others, owns Cole Porter’s estate. Marshall Fisher, a specialist in American theatre between 1930 and 1960, used a script owned by the firm along with Porter’s notes stored at his alma mater Yale University to piece together a “faithful production”. “The notes were terribly well organised, which I think reflects that Cole Porter was considered one of the finest songwriters.”

Marshall Fisher uncovered a lot about the production, including interesting facts about the cast. Aladdin was played by Sal Mineo, an Italian actor who had shot to fame after starring opposite James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause. He starred opposite Basil Rathbone, the classically trained English actor who made his name in Hollywood playing Sherlock Holmes. “What you had here was a very young kid of the moment, who everyone was talking about, mixed with this fancy English actor.” Mineo made a mistake – even though they had three practice runs before the live broadcast. “Sal Mineo gets a word wrong in front of 100m people. He screwed up publicly but he ploughed on and, from that point, Rathbone liked him.”

Lost Musicals is now in its 24th year. Three thousand actors have taken part in the productions with the first one featuring a 10-year-old James Corden. Aladdin stars John Savident, who is recognisable from a 10-year stretch as butcher Fred Elliott in Coronation Street.

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Marshall Fisher hopes that theatre-goers will find joy in what he has uncovered – a truly lost musical from one of the greatest songwriters of the era, even though, at the time, the production was underappreciated. “It was received in a very modest way. In a way, Porter was right – his songs couldn’t be further away from the fashion of the time, the Jailhouse Rock. But anything that is popular is guaranteed to become unpopular, anything that is fashionable is guaranteed to become unfashionable. The good stuff resurfaces and endures. Anything worthwhile comes back and comes back to stay.”

Aladdin is at the Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells, Islington, on August 19 and 26 at 4pm, September 1 at 2.30pm and 5.30pm and September 2 at 4pm. Tickets are �23 and �29.50. Box office on 0844 412 4300.