Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Musical No Mystery for Lansbury

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Musical No Mystery for Lansbury

Article excerpt

TELEVISION viewers who think of Angela Lansbury solely as a canny solver of murder mysteries may be surprised when she headlines in an original musical, "Mrs. Santa Claus."

But there can be no doubt Lansbury knows her way around a musical, having earned Tony awards for "Dear World," "Gypsy," "Mame" and "Sweeney Todd." Now, she stars in "Mrs. Santa Claus" (7 p.m. Sunday on Channel 4), a CBS special being billed as the first original musical for TV since Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella" in 1957.

Jerry Herman ("Hello, Dolly!" "Mame") wrote the score for the show, which airs Sunday, costarring Charles Durning as Santa and Michael Jeter as head elf. The story tells how Mrs. Claus, seeking a better route for her husband's annual trek, takes off with Donner, Blitzen & Co. and crash-lands in 1910 on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Over midmorning tea in her Brentwood home, Lansbury told of her introduction to the production: "Jerry called me up one day about two years ago and said, `I've got a project, and I feel you would be the only person I'd want to do it.' Which was a very generous-hearted thing for him to say." The songwriter said "Mrs. Santa Claus" had been brought to him by a talented writer, Mark Saltzman. Herman offered to play the music for her, she said, "and I recognized immediately that he was right back on form, going a mile a minute." "He was so entranced and so in love with this project, not only for me, but for himself. He saw it as a wonderful way of really establishing his very particular - kind of show music, which this country hasn't heard in a long time. And which some in this generation have never heard - fresh, new, original. "I was rather tough about it. After reading the script, I said, `I would like you to strengthen the character of Mrs. Santa Claus. She is too easy, too soft, too what I call pin-cushiony.' I needed to feel that she had some spine and some character and some interest." The restructuring took a long time, supervised by the show's executive producer David Shaw, the son of Lansbury and her husband, Peter Shaw. - CBS initiated the project, but as the budget mounted, Robert Halmi Sr. …

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