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Queen of the Stardust Ballroom

June 15, 2016

For years I’ve been obsessed with an amazing song on the “Lost In Boston” albums – CDs of tunes lost from shows prior to opening. “Who Gave You Permission” is simply one of the greatest never heard on stage, I think.

It was lost from a 1978 Michael Bennett Broadway flop “Ballroom,” based on the original 1973 TV film “Queen of the Stardust Ballroom.” Recently, I tracked down a DVD of that TV film, and enjoyed a “good old” nostalgia-fest.

The stars are no longer with us, names like Maureen Stapleton – Bea Asher, a recent widower who opens a shop to sell her hoarded junk, and is elected “Queen of the Stardust Ballroom” when she ventures there in search of company. Charles Durning as her lover Al Green, Charlotte Rae as shocked friend Helen, and more.

Of course, everything has changed in the (oh gasp, 40 years!!!) since it was made, but what struck me was just how much better the innocence and simplicity of that time in TV making was.

The script sagged a bit, as an hour’s story was stretched to fill the two hours US advertising required when commercial breaks were included. Yet the actual scenes were economically written, the story told with fewer long “establishing” shots and more dialogue which drove the story. Scenes were longer, too, not jumping like today between locations, but moving with smoothness.

Most of all, plenty was hinted at, but not seen. Older people having exciting love-lives are absent from our screens now. Here, it was being celebrated – and with devilish delight – yet without anything that would actually embarrass a viewer.

Best of all, it was on a human scale. The pre “Dallas” days, when greed reigned and TV pumped out dreams. This time, the only dream was of companionship and it seemed achievable by anybody.

I’d argue that since the loss of Jack Rosenthal in the UK, this is exactly what has been missing from television. Well written, genuine characters with real emotions and stories viewers can relate to, presented in a way that is familiar yet involving. Theatre manages to do it sometimes – “Temple” and “The Red Lion” being two recent examples, so why not TV now? “Reality TV” is not, so why not go back to hiring actors to participate in a scripted reality that’s hopeful and entertaining? A company who does that could end up “Queen of the BAFTAs” with a bit of luck.

In the meanwhile, do try and find both the music and film if you can, a lovely bit of TV history indeed.

 

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April 2017: Waterloo East Theatre are going to revive the stage show “Ballroom.” Can’t tell you how excited I am about that news!

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