The Twilight Zone: The Musical

February 18, 2011

Last week I watched the strangest and most elusive (well, until it was released on DVD last fall) Sondheim musical of all: Evening Primrose. Though I was aware of one of its lovely songs (I Remember, which was in one of my many Sondheim song books and which I sang with my voice teacher in high school), I had no idea that you can’t describe the plot to anyone without sounding that you are high on meth and hallucinating fever dreams. Anthony Perkins is a (terrible) poet who decides he is done with the cruel outside world so he moves into a department store and sings a song about how now his asshole neighbours won’t bug him anymore. But then it turns out he’s not so original – there’s a group of weird old people who used to be rich living in the department store already, plus Liesl from The Sound of Music, who fell asleep in the store when she was six and is now their maid (LESSON: Don’t fall asleep in department stores, no matter how cozy the fake beds look). At first he’s delighted, which doesn’t really make sense since he moved into the store to get away from people, but never mind. But soon he falls in love with Liesl and the creepy old people don’t like it and they threaten to call “the Dark Men”, who live in a funeral home and turn people into mannequins for some reason.

It’s good weird fun, and it’s less than an hour long. But the real discovery, for me, is the writer John Collier, who wrote the short story that Evening Primrose was based on. A bunch of his stories were turned into episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which makes sense because Evening Primrose is very much in that vein, only with songs. And one of his stories, Green Thoughts, which is so supremely creepy I’m shivering just thinking about it, is said to be part of the inspiration for Little Shop of Horrors. Anyway, I found a weird little edition of Collier’s collection Fancies and Goodnights at a used bookstore, and I love them – most of them are strange little morality tales, contemporary fairy tales for grown-ups, which an appealing retro flavour since they were written in the 1930s.

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