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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Mama Cass Television Program (Infinity Entertainment Group)


By Harry Forbes

Its release timed to coincide with the hoopla surrounding the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock, this ABC-TV special – apparently intended as a pilot for a projected series with the late singer – dates, like the music festival, from 1969.

A real time capsule, the DVD looks as though it were taped yesterday. Eclectic doesn’t begin to describe Mama Cass Elliot's guest list: singers Joni Mitchell, Mary Travers, and John Sebastian share the hour with Martin Landau and Barbara Bain from “Mission: Impossible” and rotund comedian Buddy Hackett.

Mitchell sings her iconic “Both Sides Now” definitively, Travers does a lively version of “And When I Die,” and the three ladies blend beautifully on “I Shall Be Released.” Sebastian solos with “She’s a Lady” followed by a duet with Cass.

Less elevated (though high on the camp level) is a production number with Cass joining Hackett, Landau, and Bain for the song “Meeskite” from “Cabaret.” The game foursome also do a so-so skit about four lonely people looking for love.

The hour – which, incidentally, includes the original commercials (catch Bernadette Peters in one for Playtex) – ends with a Cass mini-concert. Despite her girth, she does some amazingly spry footwork to “Dancing in the Streets,” and concludes with a lovely version of the standard, “I Can Dream, Can’t I?”

Cass would die five years later of heart failure in London at the age of 32.

She makes a remarkably assured host on the special, but projects even more authority in the bonus clip of a duet with Sammy Davis, Jr. There’s also a present-day interview with Sebastian reminiscing about their longtime friendship.

For all its quirkiness, this special is a bittersweet reminder of a talent taken too soon. Print this post

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