Washington Post (April 20, 1976)
"Fine, Fresh Golden Apple"
By Richard L. Coe
The big winner of the '53-'54 season, this remains as fresh as it has seemed in memory and on RCA's original cast recording, a gently satirical transplant of Ulysses and the Homeric legend to the state of Washington's Mt. Olympus in the Teddy Roosevelt era. What a charming score by Jerome Moross, what witty words by John Latouche!
Why the neglect? Possibly because every word is sung, good voices and large cast are needed and its format, like its creators' "Ballet Ballads," remains almost daringly innovative.
This Helen, not of Troy but married to sheriff Menelaus, sings that "Nothing Ever Happens in Angel's Roost." She's not impressed that the Rough Riders are heading home from Cuba. Mother Hare, the local crystal-gazer, forecasts 10-more years of war but no one believes her until a traveling salesman, dropping from a balloon labelled "Paris Notions, Inc." rescues the "always willin' " Helen from boredom. It will take the boys in blue 10 more years to get her home. The legend is not strictly adapted; it is used as a comic pra1lel for American myths.
Instead of dialogue, there are short songs and rollicking production numbers for which Moross was remarkably melodic. "Lazy Afternoon," "Goona-Goona," "My Picture in the Papers," 'My Love Is on the Way," "It's the Going Home Together" and "Store-Bought Suit" are highly varied songs and the notion of Hector as mayor of Rhododendren, introduces other satirical notes.
There's no point in claiming that Catholic University's production is definitive, but it does have sparkling confidence in its material. Michael Ricciardone has served as both musical and stage director for a four-piece band and cast of 40. The stage pictures are attractive, the pacing firm and the whole zestful.
There are alternate leads for major roles and while vocal and acting abilities are not always balanced, I found excellent performances in Mark Rendely's Ulysses and Sheila Lynn Buckley's Helen, both attractive and proficient vocally. While the words don't always come across as they should, the choral sounds are good and so are most of the specialty numbers.
What matters is that at last there is a revival for "The Golden Apple" and that it still comes through as unique, effervescent, melodic and delicious.
Daily News (April, 1988)
"Golden Apple" Is Back in Town
By Bill. Zakariasen
Oddly, "The Golden Apple" hasn't had a major revival since, so whatever the case, the production that the Kurt P. Reimann Opera Theater unveiled Thursday at the NYU Theater was most welcome.All right, this hard-working little company, being basically of amateur status, bit oil way more than it could chew. "The Golden Apple" isn't your average musical—in fact, it's a full-scaled opera for real singers, through-composed with non-stop music.That the Reimann Opera Theater's roster was seldom up to Moross' vocal demands can be forgiven, since at least the wonderful score was recognizable in both melody and invention. This was remarkable in a way, since with the exception of the hit song "Lazy Afternoon," the tunes aren't the kind one can immediately hum on first hearing. Moreover, the cast had plenty of enthusiasm, and diction was generally good, so it was relatively. easy and often hilariously rewarding to follow the complicated, absurd plot. Loi Leabo's direction, especially considering the limitations of the NYU stage, made some cleverly sharp points.Easily the most impressive performer was Richard Holmes as a most engaging, very well-vocalized Ulysses. As Helen of Troy, Nancy Hines began both vocally and visually like gangbusters, but she seemed to shrink in sound and presence as the show progressed—possibly because she noticed the great Kaye Ballard, who created the role, was seated in the audience.
Some of the better members of the huge cast included Margaret Hartman (Penelope), Diane Martindale (Mrs. Juniper) and especially William S. Ankenbrock and James Martindale playing Scylla and Charybdis like Gallagher and Shean. Though Robert Wallace's conducting was rather square, the orchestra sounded fine, while the designs by the late Stephen Palestrant were attractive. Now it's time for "The Golden Apple" to enter the New York City Opera's repertory posthaste!
Daily News (April 5, 1990)
"An Apple from the Golden Age of Musicals"
By Howard Kissel
The 1954 musical assumes the audience knows enough about Homer to catch the humor of resetting his stories in turn-of-the century America. (Nowadays even Sondheim might not be able to get away with having Scylla and Charybdis as the names in a kind of Gallagher and Sheen vaudeville number.)
Latouch&s parable of rural Americans losing their innocence in urban pleasures may not go very deep, but his lyrics are full of wit and intricacy. (How often do you hear a rhyme like "I could lift up a lorgnette I And eye you with scorn, yet... "?) Moross' music is simple yet capable of grand effects. Two exceptional numbers are "Lazy Afternoon" and the moving "It's the Going Home Together."
If the '50s were the last age of sophisticated audiences, they were also the last period in which mature performers abounded. The York Theater Company has given the revival a splendid physical production and assembled a solid cast. But their youthful exuberance and energy often seem too jejune for the material.
Sylvia Rhine handles Penelope's lush aria beautifully (though her voice gets shrill in the higher registers). Robert. R. McCormick is a good singer if a rather stolid actor. Ann Brown, a savvy comic performer, sings "Lazy Afternoon" with relish.
KIP NIVEN IS SUAVE AS THE villain, executing a soft shoe nimbly and singing with finesse. He has the kind of polish the material requires. "The Heroes" are a dapper, spirited ensemble. If you sometimes see the cast's weaknesses, you always see the show's merits.
MY Law Journal (March 29, 1990)
Bite into Sinister, Delicious "Golden Apple"
Using old American song and dance forms, John Latouche and Jerome Moross updated Homer's "Iliad" and "Odyssey" to the state of Washington, 1900-1910. Adapting operatic torm, the story is told through sung dialogue and musical numbers (including the popular "Lazy Afternoon") relating the consternation of Angel's Roost, Wash., near Mount Olympus, when a slick traveling salesman named Paris (Kelly Patterson) flies in on a balloon and abducts the rich, elderly Meneleus' (Gordon Stanley) very willing wife, Helen (Ann Brown)to the evil city of Rhododendron. The stalwart Ulysses (Robert McCormick), who has just returned from the Spanish-American War feels duty-bound, along with his fellow heros and Helen's rejected suitors, to retrieve her. He leaves his faithful wife, Penelope (Sylvia Rhyne) for 10 years during which he survives malevolent Hector (Kip Niven), Madam Calypso, the hilariously vaudevillian Scylla & Charybdis and the sultry Circe ("woman without mercy"), reuniting at last with the long-suffering Penelope.
Despite some minor deficiencies (unfortunate acoustics resulting in Lawrence Hill's hardworking orchestra drowning out the less articulate and somewhat shrill Penelope, a stiff but handsome Ulysses, a very busy plot and some unsingable recitative, credit must be given to every aspect of this highly professional reproduction of the 1954 musical.
Outstanding performances include show-sopping Kip Niven, Kelly Patterson's terpsichore, some adorable chorus buys admirably performing David Holdgrive's charmingly Broadway-esque choreography, James Morgan's inventive and humorous sets, Maryanne Powell-Parker's period costumes right down to the wire-rimmed spectacles, superb choral work and the expert direction of Charles Kondek.
The Big Apple is lucky to have The Golden Apple back.
New York Observer (April 9, 1990)
On The Town
By Rex Reed
"The Golden Apple" is a folk opera by Jerome Moross and the great lyricist John Latouche that was rewarded with the drama critics' top prize in 1954 when it debuted at the now-defunct Phoenix. It drew rave reviews and discerning crowds, but failed to catch on with the general public in a season that also gave birth to "Kismet," "Pajama Game" and the famous revival of "Threepenny Opera" with Lotte Lenya. But "The Golden Apple" still causes genuflecting among serious theater buffs, and although the current revival at the York is not the pluperfect production one dreams of, any production is better than no production at all.
With fetchingly clever lyrics and flavorful music completely devoid of spoken dialogue, "The Golden Apple" is a musical version of both "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" set in turn-of-the-century America, in the state of Washington near Mt. Olympus. Women named Minerva, Mars, Juniper, Penelope and Helen have been left behind when all the boys went away to fight the Spanish-American War, but now President McKinley has brought Ulysses, Ajax, Achilles and all the heroes home in time for the county fair with promises of peace and prosperity.
Only Mother Hare, the town psychic, predicts doom and gloom. To begin, Helen, the farmer's daughter and town belle, has gone and married the oldest geezer in town while the boys were away, and now Par-is appears as a flashy traveling salesman who lands in a hot-air balloon and whisks her off not to Rhodes, but to Rhododendron, the evil city nice boys only dream about. Ulysses leads the heroes in hot pursuit on an odyssey that lasts 10 years. It all ends happily. with Ulysses returning to his faithful Penelope and Helen reunited with her husband, Sheriff Meneleus. But in the interim Homer gets a razzle-dazzle work-over, offering the composers ample opportunity for some delicious fun. One of the most infectious things about "The Golden Apple" is its sensational score, which takes advantage of many of the song and dance styles made popular through the ages in American musicals.
In addition to a fair, a baseball game, a boxing match and a church social with arm wrestling and a sack race, the show gives the mayor a soft shoe, Scylla and Charybdis a rousing vaudeville turn in the style of Gallagher and Sheen (not to mention Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire's "Babbit and the Bromide" number from "Ziegfeld Follies"), and the sexy sirens become nightclub burlesque queens spoofing the Hawaiian hula in a show-stopper called "GoonaGoona." There's calypso, a Gay 90's music-hall extravaganza in the style of Lillian Russell, modern jazz, operatic arias and the Greek gods descending in a lively rag, "Doomed, Doomed, Doomed." There are also two of the finest ballads ever written for the American musical theater, the classical "Windflowers" and the haunting "Lazy Afternoon," first introduced by Kaye Ballard in the original production.
So much daring, wit and inventiveness requires visual panache and expert, flawless timing. The York production has the look. The patchwork-quilt motif, the wooden apples, the dart-board cutouts of fields, meadows, church steeples and Victorian houses put you right in the flavor of Americana, apple pie and the stars and stripes. What's missing is attitude.
The cast of 22 includes a few casting errors that almost prove fatal and an ensemble that doesn't seem to have any real passion or interest in the material. As a result, the timing is off and the direction, by Charles Kondek, often limps when it should kick. Caveats aside, I'm grateful for a spirited and tuneful reminder of what the American musical was able to achieve before the garish obstipation of Andrew Lloyd Webber and rock 'n roll. If you care about such things, you don't dare miss "The Golden Apple."
New York Times (March 30, 1990)
Review/Theater; Homer in Song and Dance In 'Golden Apple' Revival
By Stephen Holden
In the Latouche-Moross deconstruction of Homer, Helen is the village floozy whom Paris, a traveling salesman from the nearby town of Rhododendron, abducts in his balloon. Ulysses, the most pious among a troop of soldiers who have just returned home from the Spanish-American War, decides it is their duty to find Helen and bring her back. Homer's Olympian deities are gossipy biddies from the village who while away their time consulting fortunetellers and entering baking contests.
''The Golden Apple'' has a dazzling first act, but its story doesn't quite add up once the momentum of the plot accelerates to the breaking point in Act II. But despite a hurried conclusion, it is still one of the more delightful musical comedies of the era, and its cynically irreverent attitudes toward literature, history, patriotism, and show business have a decidedly contemporary ring. The score - a jaunty pastiche of country tunes, music-hall turns, rustic folk dances and marches all filtered through sensibilities attuned to Gilbert and Sullivan - also remains remarkably fresh.
Because ''The Golden Apple'' is a continuous sequence of fast-paced production numbers with almost no spoken dialogue, it is difficult to perform. And its conceit of turning Homer into a tongue-in-cheek parody of ''Li'l Abner'' is so broad that any production must be staged with a very firm control of the tone lest everything deteriorate into campy farce.
Although the York Theater production, directed by Charles Kondek, has many rough edges and the acting runs a bit too much toward caricature, the whimsical edge of the performances is reasonably consistent. Ann Brown's Helen is an amusingly goofy airhead, though her version of ''Lazy Afternoon,'' the show's most famous song, is not as seductive as it should be. Robert R. McCormick's Ulysses is a quintessential square, and Sylvia Rhyne, who has the cast's prettiest voice, makes an ingenuous Penelope. The strongest acting performance belongs to Kip Niven as Hector, Rhododendron's suave vaudevillian mayor.
The production's most uneven element is the musical direction. An overly percussive ensemble, conducted by Lawrence W. Hill, takes the score at tempos so swift that the singers have trouble keeping pace. While this streamlined approach gives the show a continual boost of energy, it also flattens out the music so that the score's generic parodies lose much of their flavor. The singers are so busy trying catch up with the band that the vocal performances lack personality.
The physical production is witty and inviting. James Morgan's cartoonish cut-out sets make Angel's Roost a bucolic storybook paradise and Rhododendron a fleshpot of ominously inky shadows.
MEANWHILE, BACK AT OLYMPUS . . . - THE GOLDEN APPLE, composed by Jerome Moross; written by John Latouche; directed by Charles Kondek; choreography and musical staging, David Holdgrive; musical director, Lawrence W. Hill; scenic design, James Morgan; costumes, Maryanne Powell-Parker; lighting, Mary Jo Dondlinger; production stage manager, Bob Foreman; technical director, James E. Fuller Jr. Presented by the York Theater Company, Janet Hayes Walker, producing director; Molly Pickering Grose, managing director. At the Church of the Heavenly Rest, 2 East 90th Street.
Helen...Ann BrownLovely Mars/Siren...Mimi WycheMrs. Juniper/Calypso...Mary StoutMiss Minerva Oliver/The Scientist...Cynthia SophieaMother Hare...Muriel Costa-GreensponPenelope/Circe...Sylvia RhyneMeneleus/Scylla...Gordon StanleyAjax...Tim WarmenNestor...Alan SouzaDiomede...Glen PannellAchilles...John KozeluhPetroclus...Bryan BattDoc MacCahan...Tim SalceUlysses...Robert R. McCormickParis...Kelly PattersonHector/Charybdis...Kip NivenThe Figurehead...Mary PhillipsTownswomen...Mary Lee Marson, Mary Phillips and Gina ToddTownsmen...Jim Athens, Mitchel Kantor and Brent Winborn
Theater Week (April 16, 1990)
By Ken Mandelbaum
Stylistically, The Golden Apple is unlike any other work of musical theater. It is completely sung, but without the ponderousness and pretentiousness of most recent Broadway operas. The lyrics by John Latouche (whose last lyrics were for Candide—he died a few months before that show's premiere) are among the theater's wittiest. Jerome Moross's two-hour score ranges from heartbreaking lyricism ("Windflowers") to burlesque and vaudeville turns to "hit" songs ("Lazy Afternoon"), all brilliantly fashioned to reflect popular song and dance forms of the turn of the century. The Golden Apple is not a pop opera, nor is it a musical with a score of operatic grandeur which contains 'a certain amount of dialogue (like Street Scene or The Most Happy Fella). It is a musical-comedy opera, at once lightweight and penetrating, entrancing and complex, and the most neglected masterwork of the American musical theater.
It is also a fiendishly difficult work to bring off successfully. The original had major advantages in some fairly irreplaceable principals (Kaye Ballard, Jack Whiting, Bibi Osterwald), the choreographer Hanya Holm and the set designers William and Jean Eckart at the top of their form, and a full orchestra playing Moross's own orchestrations. Janet Hayes Walker, producing director of the York Theater Company, was in the original Broadway production, and she has selected The Golden Apple to be the first musical York has ever presented twice.
The new York production, at the Church of the Heavenly Rest through April 22, is not as sparkling as one might wish, but it is a valiant effort, and the brilliance of the piece comes through. James Morgan's set of quilted patterns and cut-outs is inspired, but the staging by Charles Kondek and David Holdgrive, while often intelligent, is hampered by the size of the stage and a lack of scintillating personalities in the cast. There are several fine performances, especially Kelly Patterson's Paris, Sylvia Ryne's Penelope, Mary Stout's Mrs. Juniper and Gordon Stanley's Menelaus. Almost all the rest are at least acceptable, although one wishes Ann Brown's Helen were funnier. Muriel Costa- Greenspon's Mother Hare lacks both the requisite menace and humor, and her voice is in shreds.
The production's greatest shortcoming is unavoidable: no off-off-Broadway company can provide the full orchestra needed for the score to have maximum impact. After seeing this production, one may hasten to put on the out-of-print RCA Victor original cast album, with its sizable orchestra and company of dazzling singing actors. But The Golden Apple deserves to be performed, and York deserves thanks for allowing New York to see it again. The production often does justice to this miraculous work.
Village Voice (April 10, 1990)
By Michael Feingold
This isn't the musical's first death, of course: That came just after World War II, when Rodgers and Hammerstein held sway. They did to the musical what E.Y. Harburg's 1938 lyric had suggested we all do to love—gave it back to the birds and the bees and the Viennese. From brash, cynical frivolity, they turned it into a lushly sentimental venture, operetta with moralizing added. A few great works, like Guys and Dolls and A Funny Thing..., kept up the old scampish tradition, but by and large the musical, like American culture in general, sank into a deathlike trance of earnest emotionality; the thudding amplifiers of the rock era only drove the nails into its long-sealed coffin.
Of Thee I Sing (1931) dates from the musical's heyday, The Golden Apple (1954) from a time when its syncopated spirit was still fresh in the public mind. Both texts were written by men who had, if not precisely political visions, at any rate a cynicism about our democracy's politics that had spilled over info bitterness; both were set by composers who had aspirations and training outside the genre. The model for Of Thee I Sing was Gilbert and Sullivan (as Leonard Bernstein showed, in a famous TV lecture, by comparing its first-act finale, step by step, with the identically built first-act finale of The Mikado). The less literal inspirations for The Golden Apple were Offenbach and Kurt Weill, both of whom had dealt with the story of Paris's unwise pick and Helen's elopement with him to Troy. (Antony Tudor's ballet Judgment of Paris was danced to Weill's Threepenny tunes.)
Both teams, in other words, were trying to make an American type of comic opera, merging, the vaudeville esprit of the musical with the worldly-wise, politically aware panache of the European form. One might say the infrequency with which the works are revived is proof that they succeeded. Of Thee I Sing, shrewd enough to dilute its meanness with more innocent jokes and warm-hearted tunes, was the bigger success in its own time, turning a profit and becoming the first musical to cop the Pulitzer Prize. It also came at the lowest point of the crash--a good time to be mean-spirited about electoral politics. John P. Wintergreen is elected president in Act I by merging his courtship of sweet Mary Turner with his campaign. ("We need an issue," says one of his advisers, "something everybody's interested in that doesn't matter a damn.") In Act 11, he has to solve an international incident brought about by his rejection of the bad-girl beauty queen his campaign managers have hired for Mary's job.
Of Thee I Sing drags its feet too often on the way to its inevitable happy ending (the bad girl marries the vice-president, and Mary has twins), but it also kicks up its satirical heels quite a bit. Gershwin's scare. though more celebrat ed for cheery tunes like "Who Cares?" and "Love Is Sweeping the Country." does a surprising - amount of the kicking, in extended numbers like the opening quodlibet and the beauty-pageant chorus, abetted by brother Ira's lyrics ("Spring is in the air/Each mortal loves his neighbor/Who's that loving pair?! That's Capital and Labor"). A good G&S company, though, ought to point the kicks much more aptly than this group does. Apart from Keith Jurosko's Wintergreen, the only decisively cartooned moments of the evening are conductor Albert Bergeret's hammy pit entrances. which show not wit but egomania.
York does a little better, though not much, with The Golden Apple. James Morgan's patchwork-quilt set has nice touches, and Charles Kondek keeps the action fluid, despite bumpy musical direction. What's missing is bite: The Golden Apple may lurch up into operatic floridness at times (it was the Menotti era, after all), but in general it's one of the most playfully cruel musicals ever written, a doggerel retelling of the Iliad and Odyssey set in Washington State circa 1900. Greece becomes Angel's Roost, a hick burg whose social goddesses are "a dried-up maid, the Captain's jade, and the Mayor's old grey mare." Mr. Paris, a traveling salesman, abducts Helen the farmer's daughter, so Ulysses and the boys, just back from the Spanish-American War, head off to the big city of Rhododendron to reclaim her—where they get picked off, one by one, by the with-it partygiver Calypso, the stockbrokers Scylla and Charybdis, the sirens in a sleazy waterfront dive, and so on.
Moross and Latouche make each number a loving, malicious parody of some antique pop genre. The sirens croon pseudo-Hawaiian kitsch; the stockbrokers do Gallagher and Shean. Kondek's cast often misses the humor, and makes mush of Latouche's tricky diction. Some of the voices are good, but like all satire, the piece requires an alertness that these drone-tones from the world of Andrew Lloyd Webber just don't have. The American comic opera, that long-forgotten beauty, still sleeps; waking her from her trance calls for quicker wits.
Tallahassee Democrat (November 14, 1992)
"Golden Apple" shines
By Steve MacQueen
It's a gorgeous piece of work, beautifully put together by director John Degen. The music by Jerome Moross is tremendous, which helps since the whole play is sung. Lyricist John Latouche tosses off some of the funniest, most intricate rhymes you'll find. "The Golden Apple" is basically a turn-of-the-century "Odyssey." The always willing Helen is stolen - away from Angel's Roost, Wash., by the mute Paris. Ulysses and his army buddies, fresh from triumph in the Spanish-American War, go off to find her in the big city of Rhododendron, which is full of many temptations.
Meanwhile, back in Angel's Roost, Ulysses' wife Penelope waits patiently for the return of her husband. The singing, from top to bottom, is first rate. As Penelope, Angela Karstensen hits some jaw-dropping notes during her solos. Kathy Pittman Gaspard picked the right time to come out of retirement - she's perfect as the town witch Mother Hare. And Lainie Munro manages to make her "always willing" Helen into a sympathetic character by portraying her as a woman at the mercy of her own sensuality (don't miss her second-act-opening number). In a silent role, Russell Gregory is quite amusing as the dandy Paris. Kevin Covert, Kara Young and Aaron Gandy as Ulysses also shine in their moments but the whole cast 'really operates well as an ensemble.
The choreography and movement throughout the play ensure that it's never boring (and, not to be crass, but at two hours, 10 minutes, this is about 30 minutes shorter than the average Mainstage affair - good).
The variety of sets and the seeming effortlessness of the changes (though, of course, we know it's hardly effortless) are something to behold. Each set is simple in terms of number of props, but certain ones - such as the huge, minutely detailed backdrop of a large, turn-of-the-century city - are very impressive. Hats :011 to Gerry Leahy for a very impressive piece of scenic design.
About the only qualm, such as it is, would be that a full orchestra might have been nice, though the live orchestra that's there is fine.
One of the better Mainstage shows in a long, long time, "The Golden Apple" proves that it's not just the splashy mega-hits that belong on the big stage. Bring on more of these neglected gems:
By the way, the balloon, mentioned repeatedly in the Friday advance for the show, worked fine.
Chicago Reader (August 25, 1995)
Home on the Range
By Albert Williams
In Not Since Carrie, his chronicle of Broadway's legendary flops, Ken Mandelbaum calls The Golden Apple "perhaps the most neglected masterwork of the American musical theatre." He's only half right. Jerome Moross and John Latouche's musical comedy/folk opera, which humorously resets Homer's Iliad and Odyssey to 1900s America, is no masterpiece. But it is surely neglected. A critical success in its 1954 off-Broadway premiere, the show fared poorly when transferred to Broadway later that year. Since then it's been mounted only a handful of times, and the current revival at Northwestern University's Cahn Auditorium (which wraps up this weekend) is reportedly the first to use Moross's full orchestrations.
Though this production reveals The Golden Apple to be a work of considerable charm and craftsmanship, it also demonstrates the reasons for the show's neglect. Latouche, a facile lyricist whose credits include Paul Robeson's populist cantata Ballad for Americans and portions of Bernstein's Candide, conceived the work as a satiric illustration of America's change from a rural culture to an urban one, dotted with a few jabs at the militaristic mentality. But his funniest material is more literary than political, depending for laughs on the audience’s familiarity with Homer's epics-—a sure way to please the cognoscenti, but no guaranteed ticket to wide popularity.
Latouche's entirely sung libretto relocates the ancient Greek legend to fictional Angel's Roost in Washington, a state known for its towering peaks—including a real Mount Olympus—and its golden apples. Helen is the stereotypical farmer's daughter of every traveling-salesman joke you've ever heard; married to Sheriff Menelaus, she runs away with Paris, who arrives via hot-air balloon to peddle his "Paris Notions." Paris judges not a beauty contest but a bake-off between Lovey Mars (Aphrodite), the town spinster Miss Minerva, and the mayor's wife Mrs. Juniper (a conflation of Jupiter and Juno). Ulysses, a Rough Rider just back from the Spanish-American War, is deputized by Menelaus to bring Helen home: it's "the principle" of the thing, and besides, Helen and Paris took the china and bric-a-brac with them. Accompanied by his comrades Achilles, Patroclus, Ajax, etc., Ulysses heads off for the city of Rhododendron, "rescuing" Helen and wrecking the town.
In revenge, Rhododendron's sleazy mayor Hector sends the heroes off on a ten-year bender, featuring comical encounters with the “nympho-ego-dipsomaniac" society dowager Calypso, a Circe without mercy, Scylla and Charybdis as a Gallagher-and-Sheen-type vaudeville team, and a tribe of sarong-clad south-seas sirens who invite the men to their "lagoona-goona" in a campy spoof of Dorothy Lamour movies. Meanwhile, Ulysses' wife Penelope sits and waits, leading sewing bees from her rocking chair. (but not fending off a horde of suitors—a facet of the legend whose omission seems strange given its dramatic potential), until her gray-haired husband returns with a renewed sense of family values, expressed in a philosophical choral Finale that prefigures (and perhaps helped inspire) Candide's climactic "Make Our Garden Grow."
Moross's setting of Latouche's clever, well-rhymed verse is skillful and attractive pastiche, but it rarely demonstrates an identity of its own. Known mainly for his sound tracks for Hollywood westerns, in The Golden Apple Moross drew extensively on late-19th-century idioms—folk songs, marches, hoedowns, Stephen Foster ballads, vaudeville and minstrel-show novelty numbers, blues, even a glee-club chorale for the returning Rough Riders: "Oh Theodore, 0 Theodore / The Roosevelt that we adore." The result is zesty, sweet, and as American as—well, golden apple pie. But not nearly as nourishing. Except for the bluesy ballad "Lazy Afternoon," which launched Kaye Ballard's career when she crooned it in the original production, barely a note of the score bears remembering; Moross comes nowhere near composers like Copland and Gershwin in imposing his own distinctive personality on established popular idioms.
If The Golden Apple has a single stylistic hallmark, it's one that inhibits rather than broadens its potential: Moross has set virtually every syllable of Latouche's text to a separate musical note, without an instance that I can recall of the melisma that opera composers use to make their libretti more expressive and to show off the singers' voices. The result is briskly paced—The Golden Apple is never boring—but ultimately monotonous. Though the principal characters are given different musical styles to convey their personalities, their songs tend to sound very similar—very much in the patter tradition of the music hall. Except for the sultry "Lazy Afternoon," these songs really require a highly trained, limber-lipped articulation—and if people can't sing show tunes to themselves, they're probably not going to remember them.
The Golden Apple is thus unlikely to join Candide in the canon of reclaimed classics, but it can be very entertaining in the right production. Since such a production would be too expensive for most theaters to mount in a long-term engagement, it has fallen to Light Opera Works, whose specialty is presenting limited runs of operettas to a largely presubscribed audience, and Pegasus Players, known among other things for reviving some of Sondheim's and Ellington's nonhits, to do the job. With substantial foundation support, the two companies have put together a very solid team, including a well-established creative staff, a full orchestra, and a fine ensemble of singers whose youthfulness nicely suits the lightweight material.
Northwestern University professor Dominic Missimi has directed the show in quintessential old-fashioned presentational style, managing the onstage traffic with bouncy efficiency and prompting laughter with several good sight gags. (Instead of discus throwing, for instance, the soldiers disport themselves in sack races and tug-o'-war, while Ulysses' ship is represented by a row of men carrying American-flag bunting behind a singing "goddess.") William Eckart's set designs, based on the ones he and his late wife Jean created for the original, are cute and cartoonlike and appropriately vaudevillian; Shifra Werch's wonderful costumes include lovely candy-colored dresses for the women and a hilarious parade of plaid suits for Ulysses and his fellow duded-up rubes in the second act. Lawrence Rapchak's crisp conducting brings out the score's sparkling colors and playfulness, almost allowing us to forget its lack of originality.
The singers display generally fine voices; baritone Scott Cheffer is a forceful Ulysses despite his Alfalfa haircut, Culver Casson achieves moments of real emotional power as the left-behind Penelope, and Christine Janson has a nice vampy turn as Helen, singing "Lazy Afternoon" to dancer Samuel Franke's pantomimed Paris as she rips off his shirt, leaving him bare-chested except for a starchy cardboard collar. These and other strong soloists are supported by an-excellent chorus, who achieve under Dennis Northway's fine direction a rich sound and almost impeccable articulation.
The fine singing and orchestral playing go a long way toward making The Golden Apple seem a better score than it is; I suspect that in a smaller production, with just a few singers and a synthesizer-dominated band, the music would sound much more bland. This "neglected masterwork" isn't strong enough musically to take a place alongside other folk operas like Down in the Valley and The Ballad of Baby Doe, much less displace other versions of the same Greek legends, like Offenbach's La Belle Helene and Berlioz's Les Troyens. And it lacks the tunefulness that assures other pieces of Americana like Oklahoma! and The Music Man a permanent place in the musical-theater repertoire. Even within the genre of hybrid musical theater/opera, The Golden Apple is a rarity and will probably remain so. But for admirers of the form, this weekend's performances are must-see viewing.
Chicago Sun-Times (August 25, 1995)
"Golden Apple" Is Valuable Piece of Theater History
By Steve MacQueen
It comes in the form of "The Golden App1e. And if you scant to sample it, you'd better hurry. The exuberant and revealing revival of this 1954 Broadway show, co-produced by Pegasus Players and Light Opera Works will be staged for just one more weeknd at the Cahn Auditorium in Evanston.
Buoyed by its emergence as the most powerful nation in the world in the years after world War II, America made morethan just washer-dryers. It made musicals—everything from "The King and I" and " Pal Joey" to "Damn Yankees and "MY Fair Lady." Many became standards: others, quirkier or more easily dated, were forgotten. "The Golden Apple" with a dialogue-free, sung-through score by Jerome Moross (clearly influenced by Aaron Copland), and witty, sophisticated lyrics by John Latouche, was an example of the latter.
Set after the Spanish-American War of 1898, this funny, gently subversive show is a product of the 1950s in its picture of small-town America. It's also unusually biting in its view of the underside of the American dream, touching on everything from wandering husbands and sexually casual wives to boring picket-fence existences and sleazy big-city enticements.
In fact, the authors were inspired by the ancient Greeks, putting an exceptionally clever modern spin on Homers The Illiad and The Odyssey. Mount Olympus, once the home of the Greek gods, is neatly transposed to the town of Angel's Roost, Wash., circa 1900-1910. And it's there that the sheriff's 'always willin' " wife, Helen, (played with lascivious glee by Christine Janson) has every man waiting in line.
When Helen goes off in a balloon with Paris, a pretty-boy salesman (Samuel Franke is the sleek dancer in this properly nonverbal role), the newly decommissioned soldiers head off, as they did in the Trojan War, to reclaim her and their honor. They're led by the young and restless Ulysses (Scott Cheffer as the vigorous leading man), whose devoted wife, Penelope, (the lustrous-voiced Culver Casson) stitches quilts as she waits for his return.
All the other major characters in Homer's saga also are deftly reimagined, and the excellent program notes hell) identify them. The cast, smoothly directed by Dominic Missimi, is a crackerjack ensemble, with expert work by choreographer Nancy Teinowitz. chorus master Dennis Northway and conductor Lawrence Rapchak and his orchestra. Shifra Werch's inspired costumes play neatly against the sets adapted from William and Jean Eckart's original designs.
Among the revival's revelations is that the show's best-known song, the seductive "Lazy Afternoon," has a far more comic aspect than it does out of context. "It's the Coming Home Together" and "When We Were Young" are real beauties, and "Store-Bought Suit" is a hilarious novelty.
Though thoroughly delightful, "The Golden Apple" is very much a period piece and could probably never sustain a commercial run these days. This spirited revival, however, has unearthed a valuable piece of theater history.
Chicago Tribune (July 30, 1995)
"The Golden Apple" is ripe for picking
By Richard Christiansen
Those raves, plucked from reviews that appeared in the New York Daily News, Daily Mirror and Journal-American, respectively, were reserved for "The Golden Apple," an off-Broadway musical that retold the classic stories of "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" in an American folklore vein and placed the mythic action in the small Washington town of Angel's Roost, right near Mount Olympus, at the turn of the century.
The show, produced by the enterprising Phoenix Theatre, had direction by Norman Lloyd (who many years later enjoyed renewed fame as an actor in the TV series "St. Elsewhere",) music by Jerome Morose, a book and lyrics by John Latouche and choreography by Hanya Holm, it also had a hit song, "Lazy Afternoon," which is still in the repertoire of many a tony cabaret singer.
So, with all that going for it, why have you never seen it? Why is it not as popular now as those early ecstatic reviews would lead us to believe it was then?
Hope Abelson, a Chicagoan just beginning her career as a woman of the theater In the 1950s, worked as a production assistant on the show and has one reasonable explanation for its failure to find a future. "It was such a success off-Broadway," she says, 'that the producers were encouraged to take it to Broadway [where it became the first musical to make the big move from off-Broadway]. But it wasn't the sort of show ticket scalpers could sell, and so it had a disappointing, short run. It may have been a little before its time."
Next month, however, the legendary "Golden Apple" will have a real revival in the Chicago area, and we'll get a chance to find out what all the shouting was about back in 1954.
The production is a joint effort of Light Opera Works of Evanston and Pegasus Players of Chicago, two organizations that found they both had an itch to do the show. They'll stage it with a non-Equity cast of around 35 persons and a full 24-piece pit orchestra in the Cahn Auditorium of Northwestern University for five weekend performances only, starting Aug. 19. As an extra treat, William Eckart, who designed the much-praised scenery of the oft-Broadway production with his wife, Jean, has given the producers drawings and plans for the original settings, so that they can be duplicated on the Cahn stage.
The director who will try to pull legend and reality into some sort of workable production is Dominic Missimi, a member of the Northwestern faculty who also has extensive credits In local professional musical theater.
"It's one of those things," he says, "where if you don't do it now, you're never going to be able to do it, and since we have the opportunity to give its big, fullscale,symphonic send-off, I wanted to get involved,"
Like most people, Missimi had never seen the show in any of its small, infrequent revivals, though he had read and heard about it. He discovered, among other things, that the show is completely sung, with a score that Missimi describes as having "a real American touch."
"It's very charming and imaginative throughout," the director adds. In putting the Greek myth its an American context, for example, the authors replaced the sirens who lure the sailors to destruction with a chorus of hula girls. For Missimi, "the first act is very fresh and together; the second act, which has several vaudeville-type numbers, is more problematic. The music, which has touches of Aaron Copland in it, is very good. Aside from 'Lazy Afternoon, there aren't many songs that stand out, but there are lots of clever little ensembles, and one duet, 'It's the Going Home Together,' is really very lovely."Eckart, whose long-term friendship with Abelson led to his cooperation with the production, expects to be here for the Cahn opening. He agrees that "The Golden Apple' doesn't have any big, show-stopping moments. 'It isn't that kind of work. Hanya Holm. our choreographer, didn't believe in showing off; she didn't make any big ballets, but she worked carefully on every bit of movement. It was all of a piece." "The Golden Apple" remains a show close to Eckart's heart. "My wife and I first saw it when a friend took us to an audition, and we liked it so much that we kept coming back. Since we were mostly unemployed in those days, we worked out a scenic design based on our own notions and eventually we got the job. It took a long time to get it produced, however. Most commercial producers had taken a pass on it before the Phoenix picked it up as part of its season."
And how does he believe a 1995 audience will take to this 1954 hit of Americana?
"I have no ides," he says, "but we'll soon find out, won't we?"
Chicago Tribune (August 21, 1995)
'Lost' Musical 'Golden Apple' still tart
By Richard Christiansen
An antic anti-war musical of the Cold War era, and a seminal work that foresees such later works as Leonard Bernstein's "Candide" and Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods," "The Golden Apple" is a fascinating, historic work that's also fun and inspiring for its own sake in 1995.
A musical that audaciously transposed the action of "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" from ancient Greece to 1910 America, the show originally received ecstatic reviews as a breakthrough hit. It enjoyed a sold-out run off-Broadway, then transferred to Broadway, where it was again widely hailed, but spottily attended. A cast album was made, and a pop song, "Lazy Afternoon," emerged, but otherwise, the show was left to memory.
This month, however, two enterprising off-Loop organizations, Light Opera Works and Pegasus Players, have combined to stage the musical in an ambitious new production at Cahn Auditorium of Northwestern University.
With about 40 persons on stage and a 24-piece orchestra in the pit, and with at least an approximation of the original scenery designed by William and Jean Eckart, this is a serious effort at bringing back a "lost" musical to public view. And this rendition is good enough to suggest clearly what prompted all the excitement in the first place.
To begin with, it is an amazingly clever and sophisticated (perhaps too sophisticated to be popular) piece of work. John Latouche, who wrote the book and lyrics for what is essentially a sing-through opera, took the stories of the Trojan War and, with zestful imagination, placed them in the little town of Angel's Roost on Mt. Olympus in Washington state.
Helen of Troy becomes the town's good-time girl; her husband, Menelaus, is an old fuddy-duddy and Paris, who abducts her to the urban fleshpots of Rhododendron (Troy), is a sexy traveling salesman of ladies' notions who arrives in a hot-air balloon. Ulysses and his heroes are stouthearted, but not terribly bright, veterans of the Spanish-American War; once they've retrieved Helen, their long odyssey home takes them, among other places, to an island where hula girl sirens croon-a and spoon-a in the Guna-Guna Laguna.
Jerome Moross' music, which shows the influence of Aaron Copland, binds the story together with a continuing spin of melody, while deftly evoking vaudeville turns, soft-shoe routines and operettas.
Latouche's lyrics, meanwhile, brim with internal rhymes and wittily place the action in its period through turn-of-the-century references.There have been shortcuts in design (in the production at Cahn Auditorium of Northwestern University), but there's enough on stage to suggest the storybook fancies of the original scenery (by William and Jean Eckart), and Shifra Werch's costume designs, particularly in the outrageous store-bought plaid suits of Ulysses and his heroes, are marvels of good-humored imagination.
Scott Cheffer and Culver Casson, as Ulysses and his faithful Penelope, have the two best singing voices in the production, blending them beautifully in their duet of "It's the Going Home Together." Samuel Franke has the handsome stance, if not always the steps, for the dancing, non-speaking role of Paris, and Christine Janson, growling and shimmying through her vamping songs, is an amiable Helen.
The Light Opera Works/Pegasus Players version, though at times only hinting at the mirth and melody of the musical, is an exceedingly well-produced non-Equity presentation, very smartly staged by director Dominic Missimi, crisply conducted by Lawrence Rapchak and well sung by the large cast.
Copley (August 17-23, 1995)
Updating Homer a 'Golden' experience
By Catey Sullivan
But a less-than-scholarly appreciation for the Trojan War and its aftermath hopefully will not frighten audiences away from The Golden Apple, opening this weekend in a collaborative production between Chicago Light Opera Works and the Pegasus Players at Northwestern University's Cahn Auditorium in Evanston.
Set in the United States in the early 1900s, The Golden Apple received critical exultation when it opened in New York in 1954. The show has not been performed since, at least not in its fully orchestrated form.
"It was about 30 years ahead of its time," said musical director Larry Rapchek. Whereas it's not at all uncommon now to see Elizabethan-era Shakespeare works transplanted to contemporary times, this was rarely done in the 1950s, Rapchek said.
"In 1954, these guys plopped (Homer's ancient Greek) characters down in 1900s Washington state, and set the play at the foot of Mount Olympia instead of Mount Olympus. During its time, it was considered really avant garde, big and brash and unique and cutting edge. The critics loved it and the musical intelligentsia loved it," Rapchek said. Unfortunately, the show was perhaps a bit too cutting edge for the ticket-buying masses who were deep in the thrall of the golden age of Rogers and Hammerstein during the 1950s.
Rapchek has had his hands full conducting the work: The music of Jerome Moross is a veritable labyrinth of styles and textures."The fact that they transplanted it allowed Moross to use all sorts of musical forms and styles from the early 20th century, so it spans a huge gamut of styles. You've got cakewalks and barbershops and jazz and even some flapper music from the 1920s. There's also tangos and waltzes and some plain, good old-fashioned symphonic stuff," Rapchek said.
John Latouche's lyrics are similarly complex, Rapchek added. "One of the earliest critics of the show said it had enough words in this opera for three musicals."
Moving Ulysses, Helen, Paris, Penelope and the rest of the gang out of pre-Christian Troy and into 20th century Washington creates an abundance of theatrical possibilities. There is one scene, for example, wherein Ulysses and his pals battle Circe (the mythical woman who, among other really nifty tricks, could turn men into swine) in plaid Zoot suits to the rhythm of a down and dirty jazz tune. Then there's a bizarre Vaudvillian bit that involves Ulysses taking a foray into the stock market. Helen (she of the face-that-launched-a-thousand-ships fame) is a farmer's daughter, Penelope is a housewife, and Paris is a salesman.
"The construction of this is fool-proof," Rapchek said of the intertwining of lyrics and music in the opera. "The architecture of the music is so beautiful all you have to do is play it. If you just do what's in the score, you really can't go wrong."
The sets for the production are replications of those from the Broadway version by William Eckart, who with his wife Jean created the original sets four decades ago.
"Anyone who enjoys musicals or history or movies or great stage entertaininert will enjoy this," Rapchek said. A final plus: No knowledge of Greek or Latin is required - The Golden Apple is sung entirely in English.
Copley (August 24-30, 1995)
Everything sizzles in intelligent 'Golden Apple'
By Catey Sullivan
A joint effort of Light Opera Works and Pegasus Players running through Aug. 27 at Cahn Auditorium in Evanston, The Golden Apple is a peach of a production.
The Golden Apple transplants Homer's epic rendition of the Trojan War and Ulysses' long journey home afterward to 1910 Washington state, and incorporated everything from Appalachia in folk songs to foxtrots to cake walks into one lean, energetic musical.
Director Dominic Messimi and musical conductor Lawrence Rapchak have whipped the non-Equity cast into fighting form here, and the adventures of Penelope, Helen, Ulysses, Paris and the rest of the classic characters are a delight to watch unfold.
As Helen, Christine Janson is an electric bad girl, alternately oozing with a lazy ennui at the small-town life of Angels Roost (Troy) and a lascivious zeal at the chance to orchestrate her kidnaping by Paris (Samuel Franke). Were it a sidewalk, Janson's Act I siren song, "Lazy Afternoon" would be hot enough to fry an egg on.
Amazingly - because he is mute throughout the entire show - Franke's Paris is never upstaged by the Face That Launched A Thousand Ships. As a slick, traveling salesman who descends to Angels Roost in a balloon, Franke's Paris is a charismatic mystery. His dancing is sleek and graceful, making him an irresistible temptation for the oh-so-bored Helen.
Slotted as the somewhat two-dimensional Ulysses,(a real man's man, Ulysses' life revolves around fighting and romance), Scott Cheffer works well as the eternal warrior who incurs the wrath of his eternal love Penelope (Culver Casson) when he dallies on the way home from the Trojan War. That 10-year dally -- which includes run-ins with Circe, the woman who could turn men into swine, a handful of hula-dancing sirens and the deadly duo of Scylla, the sea monster, and Charybdis, the whirlpool - is a regular romp on stage. As Hector, the fast-talking, sequin-suited mayor of Rhododendron, John Mark Swink adds an delightfully oily edge to the proceedings.
This is the first time The Golden Apple has been mounted with full orchestration in 41 years. Hopefully, the next staging will be sooner and similar.
Daily Herald (August 25, 1995)
(not quite) Homer for the masses
'The Golden Apple' is witty, complex, eclectic and vibrant - if you know your Greek mythology
By Tom Valeo
But "The Golden Apple" was perhaps the first musical to make that move. It opened in 1954 at a small theater on New York's Lower East Side, where it drew ecstatic reviews and a cult-like following. Then it moved to Broadway where it closed after a disappointing run of 125 performances.
Ever since, "The Golden Apple" has assumed almost mythic status as a great play misunderstood by the masses, and to an extent that assessment is justified. The musical certainly was innovative and challenging - and therefore kind of annoying to audiences looking for fun.
Instead of a play with songs, "The Golden Apple" was more of an operetta sung entirely from beginning to end. While Andrew Lloyd Webber and such musicals as "Les Miserables" have made us comfortable with that practice, Broadway audiences in the 1950s most definitely were not, and so they stayed away from "The Golden Apple." The plot is pretty highbrow, too, which undermines its mass appeal. John Latouche, who wrote the story and the lyrics, based the musical on "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey by the ancient Greek poet Homer. The setting is Mount Olympus, but the one in Washington State, not the one in Greece that was the home of the gods. The mythical characters who populate Homer's epic have been transformed into smalltown yokels, and their titanic conflicts have been reduced to petty scandals.
Clever? Of course, and the music by Jerome Moross is witty, eclectic and complex.
But 'The Golden Apple" is still no crowd pleaser. While the revival at Cahn Auditorium in Evanston is vibrant and beautifully sung, its operatic form still makes the story difficult to enter, and the wry jokes are accessible only to those who recognize the sly way Latouche has found modern equivalents to ancient Greek legends.
Those equivalents are very funny, however. Phil Kraus, the artistic director of Light Opera Works, which staged this production in collaboration,with the Pegasus Players, has written a program insert that provides a "who's who" of ancient Greek mythology. With it, some of the jokes become apparent.<
For example, when the soldiers return from the Spanish-American War, the homecoming celebration involves a baking contest that attracts three rivals - Lovey Mars, Mrs. Juniper and Miss Minerva. Mother Hare, a gypsy fortuneteller, offers a golden apple to the winner, and the women invite Paris, a handsome traveling salesman who arrives by hot air balloon, to serve as judge.
As Kraus points out, this is an adaptation of The Judgment of Paris," in which Eris, the goddess of discord and strife, throws a golden apple marked "for the fairest" down to a wedding feast on Mt. Olympus. Three goddesses claim the prize: Aphrodite, Hera and Athena. To settle the dispute, Zeus decides that the contest should be judged by the Trojan prince, Paris, the handsomest man alive.
Get it? Aphrodite is the goddess of love (or Lovey); Hera is the wife of Jupiter (Mrs. Juniper); and Athena, the Greek goddess of war and compassion, also is known as Minerva. Mother Hare substitutes for Hera, and Mr. Paris, the handsome traveling salesman, steals Helen. known by all the soldiers to be a pushover, from her new husband, Menelaus.
The entire show consists of such parallels with "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey," and director Dominic Missimi masterfully helps the complex story unfold smoothly.
But such cleverness is lost on those who do not recognize the parallels, and the parallels seem to be the only purpose of the story, and the second act seems to disintegrate as it attempts to recapitulate the adventures of Ulysses recounted in "The Odyssey."
The Light Opera Works and Pegasus Players deserve praise for providing an opportunity to see this unusual work. With a cast of 40 accompanied by a full orchestra, the production approximates what Broadway audiences saw more than 40 years ago.
But the fact remains that "The Golden Apple", while intended as a satirical commentary, seems more concerned with its own cleverness than with telling a meaningful and engaging story.
Diversions (August 21, 1995)
'Golden Apple'polished for Midwest debut
By Virginia Gerst
He knew that it frequently turns upon theater critics' lists of all-time best musicals and that it hadn't had a full scale staging since 1954, when it copped-the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award.
"It just isn't done," he said last week. "It was like being asked to direct 'Titus Andronicus' by Shakespeare. I thought, 'Well gosh, let's not let the moment pass by..."
Audiences, too; might want to seize the moment and catch "The Golden Apple" this weekend and next at Cahn Auditorium in Evanston, where it is having its first fully orchestrated production since the original New York run.
Based on Homer's "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey," and performed entirely in song, "The Golden Apple" is set at the turn of the century in the tiny town of Angel's Roost, Washington, at the foot of Mt. Olympus. There, the sultry Helen, a bored farmer's daughter, runs off with Paris, a handsome traveling salesman, with the avenging Ulysses and his fellow Spanish-American War veterans in hot pursuit.
"It's a relatively large venture," said Missimi, explaining why "The Golden Apple" is so seldom plucked from the shelf. "You start with 12 heroes, then you add the male and female chorus and pretty soon you're talking about a cast of 40. The fact that it doesn't contain a word of dialogue probably also scared some people off."
What it does contain is a score that mixes pre-World War I musical styles from Tin Pan Alley tunes and Appalachian folk ballads to ragtime, jazz and more.
The music is the work of composer Jerome Moross, who also wrote ballets including "Frankie and Johnnie," and music for such Westerns as "The Big Country" and "Wagon Train." Lyrics are by John Latouche, who collaborated on "Candide," "Cabin in the Sky" and the American opera, "The Ballad of Baby Doe" before dying at age 38, two years after "The Golden Apple's" premiere.
Missimi, who heads Northwestern University's Musical Theater program and is a Jeff-award winning director with more than two dozen productions to his credit, said the music holds up.
"When I first listened to the relatively primitive tape of the original production, I thought, 'Oh, my, this is a little creaky." But when you hear the full orchestra, it's enchanting."However, the production is not relying on the music alone.
William Eckart, who designed the original much praised sets for "Golden Apple" with his late wife, Jean, is recreating them for the Cahn stage. Costumes, and there are, according to Missimi, "a zillion" of them, are by Shifra Werch.
Scott Cheffer, who recently played the title role in Candlelight's production of "Phantom," portrays Ulysses, with his off-stage wife, Culver Casson, as Penelope and Christine Janson as Helen.
"The Golden Apple" debuted in 1954 at New York's off-Broadway Phoenix Theater, earned a parcel of rave reviews and a Life magazine cover before transferring to Broadway. There, the welcome was less warm, and the run disappointingly brief. Variety, the show business newspaper, listed it as a failure in its annual round-up of hits and misses. Since then, it has received a few scaled down productions, including a mildly successful off-Broadway revival in 1962, but no major stagings.
Missimi is hoping the Light Opera Works/Pegasus Players production will change that. In the future, he would like to see "The Golden Apple" rediscovered by regional opera companies throughout the United States."Moross's music is brilliant and so are Latouche's lyrics," he said. "They were a very smart team and it's a shame they couldn't have done more. What a fabulous partnership this might have been."
Evanston Review (August 24, 1995)
'Apple's' a peach
By Virginia Gerst
The long-overdue revival, co-produced by Light Opera Works and Pegasus Players, opened Saturday in Evanston.
As performed by a 40-member cast and orchestra of 23, this musical reworking of events in "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" is witty and smart, and has charm to spare.
Set in the early 1900s in the tiny town of Angel's Roost, Wash., at the foot of Mount Olympus, and performed entirely in song, it tells of Helen, the lusty wife of the aged but affluent Menelaus and of Paris, the traveling salesman who whisks her away in a hot air balloon. It also tells of Ulysses, the military general who returns home from the Spanish Civil War, kisses his beautiful wife. Penelope, then heads off again with his troops to bring Helen home.
The score is the result of a collaboration between composer Jerome Moross and .John Latouche who died two years alter "The Golden Apple" premiered.
Aside from 'Lazy Afternoon," the show contains no familiar songs, but it does have the sweet "Coming Home Together," the beautiful "When We Were Young" and some very clever rhymed lyrics.
Director Dominic Missimi's inventive staging keeps the action moving, and Nancy Teinowitz's choreography is a pleasing mix of dance styles.
The cast is well polished.
As the "always willin' Helen, Christine Janson can shift from sweet to sultry in a heart beat, and takes obvious pleasure in the transformation.
Scott Cheffer is a handsome, strong-voiced Ulysses, and his real life wife, Casson Culver is lovely as the loyal Penelope. Bill Chamberlain is very funny as the wiry Menelaus, pleading with his wife to return home "before it's too late," arid, while she's at it, to "bring back the china and the silver plate." As Paris, handsome dancer Samuel Franke does not sing a note, but nevertheless manages to make it clear why Helen is willing to fly off with him.
Jessica Ross as Lovey Mars, Ellie Quint as Mrs. Juniper, and Maureen Sorensson as Miss Minerva. provide one of the show's most charming interludes as they vie for the grand prize (the golden apple) in a cooking contest, with Paris as judge.
The sets, reproductions of those William Eckart and his late wife, Jean, created for the original production, are whimsical, and Shifra Werch's many costumes include bright plaid suits for the men's chorus and frocks for the women worthy of the cover of Godey's Lady's Book.
There are only three remaining performances of 'The Golden Apple." It would be rotten luck to miss it.
Opera News (December 2015)
Moross: The Golden Apple
By Eric Meysters
There have been no Broadway revivals of The Golden Apple since its premiere; even the estimable Encores! musical-comedy repertory series at New York's City Center hasn't touched it. Regional revivals are infrequent, though a single concert performance was given in 2005 in upstate New York, at Bard College's Summerscape festival. It took the Lyric Stage company in Irving, Texas, to present a full-scale revival in its 2014–15 season, and to give the work back to us in its original form—uncut, fully staged, with a cast of forty-three and an orchestra of thirty-six. Fortunately it was preserved by PS Classics on this magnificent two-CD set.
Moross and Latouche used as inspiration The Iliad and The Odyssey, setting them in America at the turn of the century. In the small town of Angel's Roost, at the foot of Mount Olympus in Washington State, Ulysses is a returning Spanish–American War hero, Helen is a farmer's daughter with a wandering eye, and Paris is a traveling salesman who makes his arrival by balloon. When Helen seduces Paris and allows him to carry her off, Ulysses and the Angel's Roost menfolk take off after them. Moross and Latouche hit on musical-theater alchemy here; the music is rip-roaring, bursting-at-the-seams Americana, and Latouche's witty, exquisitely crafted lyrics fit it like perfectly set gems. Marches, waltzes, hymns, vaudeville parodies—all are seamlessly integrated, evoking early-twentieth-century popular-music forms with an overlay of Broadway flair. The effect is irresistible.
Fortunately, Lyric Stage had a generally excellent cast to carry this off. If this is strictly local talent, it is of a remarkably high level. Best is Christopher J. Deaton as Ulysses, who wields his handsome light baritone and clear diction with masculine elegance. As his Penelope, Kristen Lassiter offers a sense of stoic nobility and an appropriately furious tirade when Ulysses finally makes his long-overdue return to her. Danielle Estes as Helen doesn't go in for the voluptuously rich tone of Kaye Ballard's 1954 original, but she draws a marvelously comic, often hoydenish characterization of the libidinous farmer's daughter. As the local seeress Mother Hare, Deborah Brown is brash and funny, making the most of every line yet never pushing too much. Only James Williams as Hector lets the team down; he does not have the vocal resources to put over this brassy, galvanizing huckster, here a small-town mayor leading Ulysses and his men down the path of dissolution.
The exuberant original orchestrations by Moross and Hershy Kay are rousingly conducted by Jay Dias. And a full libretto is enclosed, including plenty of photos as well as informative essays by Jon Burlingame, Deniz Cordell and Robert Edridge-Waks. Regional opera companies should take note: if they choose to produce this neglected work, and if they do it as well as Lyric Stage, they may have a hit on their hands.
CastAlbums (July 5, 2015)
REVIEW: The Golden Apple - First Full-Length Recording
I'm pleased to report that the cheering was well warranted. Recorded live over the course of three days, the album has the vibrancy of a live performance (if curiously sporadic audience response) with studio-quality sound. While none of the cast is likely to be familiar to listeners outside of Texas, they are across the board well-cast. If the current cast lacks some of the unique personalities of the original (which featured, among others, Kaye Ballard, Bibi Osterwald, Portia Nelson, and Stephen Douglass), the lack of known performers allows us to really hear these characters as characters.
Despite the operatic ambitions of the score, it is best performed by the type of performers for which it was written, which is to say theater singers. The music is particularly well-served by this cast of singers (particularly Christopher J. Deaton as Ulysses and Kristen Lassiter as Penelope) who can handle mid-century legit style that seems to have gone the way of the dinosaurs on contemporary Broadway without slipping into "full opera" mode. With its mix of Copeland-esque Americana, art songs, vaudevillian turns, and Broadway toe-tappers, the score offers delights for all kinds of show music fans. That it all blends so seamlessly into one, coherent epic is a testament to Moross and Latouche's achievement.
The recording appropriately received the deluxe treatment in its packaging, with a handsome 56-page booklet (designed by Arts Marketing Network, Inc.) including a synopsis, lyrics, production photos, and a handful of essays to help contextualize the show.
One might quibble with some elements of the album -- I'm told there are a couple of minor cuts to the score, and I wish the sound balance had placed the orchestra a little further forward -- but what's the point, really? Most of us never expected to hear a full recording of this score with a cast and orchestra of this size and quality, and to have it delivered with such finesse is nothing short of a miracle. Thank you to producer Tommy Krasker and the entire PS Classics team.
A CurtainUp (May 2017)
Encores! Golden Apple
By Elizabeth Ahlfors
The 1954 show that earned raves for its glorious score, clever lyrics and broad but sly humor, closed after 125 performances. As the 2017 season of City Center's Encores!, final production, Michael Beresse directs the musical omnibus as a fast-moving blast of Americana via classical Greece.
An off-beat, sung-through operetta by Jerome Moross with clever lyrics by John Latouche, The Golden Apple turns the classics into Americana — a non-linear travelogue through America, past, present and a present mood in no particular order. Greece becomes Washington state's Angel's Roost, a town in which they claim, "Nothing ever happens." There is excitement right now, however, with a welcome home to Spanish-American War hero, Ulysses (Ryan Silverman). Waiting is his young wife, Penelope (Mikaela Bennett), parades and a home-town fair, with the traditional a bake-off. Local soothsayer, Mother Hare (N'Kenge), promises a lucky apple made from gleaming golden wire for the winner and judging the contest is Paris, a dapper traveling salesman who arrives in a hot-air balloon.
Married to the middle-aged sheriff, Menelaus (Jeff Blumenkrantz) Helen is a frisky young gal but too reckless for small town life. Played by Lindsay Mendez with a tangy voice and a twinkle in her eye, Helen is not the siren of lore but popular because 'she's always willin'. In fact, she's willing enough to join Paris in his hot air balloon and fly to the nearby city of Rhododendron. Desperate, Menelaus urges Ulysses to find Helen and bring her home so Ulysses and pals are off on another jaunt, one not to end for ten years.
With Rob Berman's full orchestra on stage providing a panoply of 20th century American music, Joshua Bergasse's choreography creates rhythms of jazz, cakewalks, hillbilly and soft-shoe. He brings a reminiscence of the rowdy energy from Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, muscular dances for women with twirling grace and athletic, limber men. Barton Cowperthwaite as Paris never speaks or sings but is poetically eloquent in his leaps, balletic stretches and graceful movements. A lengthy Act II vaudeville segment is based on the seven deadly sins, including "Scylla and Charybdis," a parody of "Gallagher and Sheen" with stock market dealers. Ashley Brown (( Mary Poppins ) as Madame Calypso, "Nympho megalo ego dipso Maniac", tempts the rescuers to meet the local temptresses. Yet more temptation comes from "Goona Goona" with South Seas hula-type sinuous slithering sirens in clinging scarlet silk.
Mendez ( Significant Other ) sings the only standard from the show, the contemporary sound of, "Lazy Afternoon." Most memorable is the ballad, "It's the Going Home Together," sung by Penelope and Ulysses, with an insinuating melody that lingers in the mind. Ryan Silverman ( Side Show ) is a hunky Ulysses with a lusty baritone In her professional stage debut as Penelope, Mikaela Bennett possesses a celestial soprano that suggests future stardom. Encores' cast of 40 is top-notch in this long neglected cult show.
The beat goes on with Beresse's direction and Bergasse's choreography. Allen Moyer's primitive painting creates an early American scenic design. Always imaginative costume designer, William Ivey Long delineates different periods, including the 1920's cobalt fringe dress for Helen. Ulysses and ensemble look like jivey '40s hepcats delivering, "Store-Bought Suit" in their new neon-trimmed suits. Wrapped in colorful swags of cloth, N'Kenge ( Motown, the Musical ) makes grand entrances as Circe and Mother Hare.
Ulysses returns to Penelope who hasn't had a great time during his ten-year spree. Egged on by the town's women, she berates Ulysses. "What did you expect?... I got along without you so you had better get along, too!" Reflecting 1950's mores, Penelope finally calms down and the show ends with the couple's optimistic new view of their lives with, "We've Just Begun."
The Golden Apple is an ambitious production, if not a great audition pleaser.
Am New YOrk (May 11, 2017)
'The Golden Apple' review: Rarely seen musical ripe for revival
By Matt Windman
Hamlet, in describing a little-known play to a troupe of traveling actors, famously said that it "pleas'd not the million,'twas caviar to the general; but it was (as I received it, and others, whose judgments in such matters cried in the top of mine) an excellent play."
That critical assessment could just as easily apply to "The Golden Apple," an unusual, daring and unapologetically brilliant 1954 musical by composer Jerome Moross and lyricist John Latouche. After a short Broadway run, it went on to become one the first American musicals to develop a fiercely devoted cult following.
Now, more than two decades since City Center initiated its much-beloved Encores! series, in which rarely-seen musicals are given concert-style productions with a Broadway-caliber cast and the backing of a full orchestra, "The Golden Apple" is finally getting a long-overdue, much-deserved second shot.
It might be no coincidence that the musical's first full-length recording was released two years ago, bringing it back to the attention of musical theater aficionados.
"The Golden Apple" deftly reinterprets Homer's epic poems "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" into the context of early 20th century America, depicting Ulysses as a naive and well-meaning farmer, Helen as a bored farmer's daughter and Paris as a salesman who travels by hot air balloon.
With its speedy pace, sung-through structure (not unlike an opera), balletic interludes, sweeping and rhythmically propulsive score and extremely witty and precise lyrics, "The Golden Apple" could very well have been Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim's follow-up to "West Side Story."
The Encores! staging (directed by Michael Berresse, with Rob Berman conducting) is clean and simple but vibrant and beautifully sung by a fine cast led by Mikaela Bennett (a fourth-year undergrad at Juilliard who plays Ulysses' long-suffering wife Penelope) plus Broadway talents including Ryan Silverman, Lindsay Mendez, Jeff Blumenkrantz, N'Kenge, Alli Mauzey and Ashley Brown.
Whether "The Golden Apple" grows on you or not, this production shows off the Encores! series at its best, in producing a unique and extraordinary but underappreciated musical that probably would not have otherwise received another major New York production. For all we know, it could take another 60 years for "The Golden Apple" to come back.
Broadway World (May 13, 2017)
Encores! Serves Up Delicious Mounting of Cult Favorite THE GOLDEN APPLE
By Michael Dale
I imagine if there was a live broadcast of Wednesday night's opening performance of the Encores! production of THE GOLDEN APPLE, there might have been a few musical theatre fans venturing out to the city's cemeteries, perhaps sporting a bottle or two of prosecco, to also share with loved ones a moment they thought they might never live to see.
This is a show that Broadway lovers have been begging Encores! to do ever since the City Center company began presenting concert mountings of rarely-revived musicals in February of '94. Despite positive reviews, it only ran for three and a half months at the Alvin Theatre after transferring in April of 1954 from Off-Broadway's Phoenix Theatre. But the score was preserved in an original Broadway cast recording that has helped it accumulate a passionate following. The phrase "cult musical" might have been created for THE GOLDEN APPLE.
Perhaps it was an early case of Off-Broadway quirkiness not quite jibing with Broadway audiences. After all, it was a musical retelling of the story of Ulysses and Helen of Troy, back when that was an original idea.
Bookwriter/lyricist John Latouche mixes literary wit with hearty folksiness as he sets the scene in the first decade of the 20th Century, when soldiers with names like Ulysses, Homer and Agamemnon are returning from the Spanish-American War back to Angel's Roost, a rural Washington State locale at the foot of Mt. Olympus.
All the fellas are crazy about Helen, though unlike the way the Greeks tell it, in this case she's a fun and rowdy gal; way more than just a pretty face who launches ships. But while they were off to war, she married the older, wealthier Sheriff Menelaus.
Longing for adventure, Helen runs off with a traveling salesman named Paris, who arrives in town via a hot air balloon. He takes her back to the tawdry town of Rhododendron, a playground for the gods run by its showman mayor Hector.
To the dismay of his wife Penelope, Ulysses sets out to Rhododendron to bring Helen Back, but Hector encourages him to stay and enjoy the delights of his domain.
Composed for a combination of legit voices and Broadway belters, Jerome Moross' score is a crazy mix of classical jazz, operetta, folk, vaudeville and showtune, with Helen's languidly sexy "Lazy Afternoon" being its most enduring selection.
Encores! music director Rob Berman leads a 31-piece onstage orchestra - more than half of them on strings - playing Moross and Hershey Kay's original orchestrations; an excitingly eclectic Americana sound that's rarely heard on Broadway.
As is often the case when Encores! produces Golden Age musicals, the production values of director Michael Berresse's spirited production may be modest by today's standards, but the festive visuals by scenic designer Allen Moyer and costume consultant William Ivey Long are in the spirit of replicating the experience of attending theatre when the focus was on innovative writing and imaginative staging.
Lindsay Mendez shines brightly as Helen, a role originated by Kaye Ballard, singing with warmth, humor and gleeful sexuality. Ryan Silverman's Ulysses is a traditionally virile-voiced baritone, well-match with Mikaela Bennett's strong dramatic soprano as Penelope. Barton Cowperthwaite doesn't utter a sound as Paris, dancing the role with sexy balletic strides choreographed by Joshua Bergasse. With such a varied score, Bergasse's work throughout the show ranges from acrobatic ballet to jazz to buck and wing.
There are plenty of juicy supporting roles to go around and Encores! has gathered a top cast to play them. Alli Mauzey, Ashley Brown and Carrie Compare are a trio of proper town ladies in act one who get to break out as goddesses performing specialty numbers in the second half. N'Kenge is a dazzler as an eccentric soothsayer who promises a golden (wire) apple to the winner of a county fair bake-off.
Jeff Blumenkrantz is a comical dullard as Sheriff Menelaus, but when in Rhododendron he and Jason Kravits (as a gritty vaudevillian Hector) partake in a kooky Gallagher and Shean parody number as Scylla and Charybdis.
Though over sixty years old, THE GOLDEN APPLE is a musical that retains its youthful vim with its consistent cleverness. While a commercial Broadway revival is always a risky venture, perhaps a high-profile Encores! production may prove to be what's needed to inspire high school and regional productions. This one deserves a far greater following.
City Center Encores! (May 2017))
"The Golden Apple" at City Cneter Encores!
By Zander Opper
What's more, there was a great deal of dancing in the show (the spirited choreography was staged by Joshua Bergasse), and the production also featured a huge orchestra onstage and an over forty member cast of actors. "The Golden Apple" is the kind of musical that is perfect for City Center Encores!, simply because the chance of seeing a full stage production of this show is pretty slim to none. So, for those lucky few who got to see "The Golden Apple" at City Center, the treasures in this show sparkled brightly from beginning to end.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the Encores! "The Golden Apple" was the fact that it was directed so smoothly and so effectively by Michael Berresse, who is generally known more as an actor than a director. Still, Berresse managed to keep this show moving at a swift pace, as well as bringing out the best in his actors and the best in the material itself. Considering how demanding "The Golden Apple" truly would be for anyone to direct, this concert could easily have fallen apart and become a train wreck. But Michael Berresse dazzled with the ability to stage a show like this so wonderfully, as well as eliciting such superlative performances from his cast. Just based on how well this concert went, Berresse deserves the opportunity to direct many more shows in the future.
And, speaking of the company of actors, all of the principal performers got their chance to shine. To be honest, I've been waiting for Encores! to stage "The Golden Apple" for over twenty years, so I had originally pictured such performers as Rebecca Luker and Debbie Gravitte being cast in the show, but, of course, that was twenty years ago. Still, the cast assembled for this concert of "The Golden Apple" was pretty stellar.
For me, the most outstanding performer in the show was Lindsay Mendez as Helen. This was a role that Kaye Ballard originated and Mendez proved to be pretty grand, especially singing a luxurious "Lazy Afternoon" and opening the show with "Nothing Ever Happens in Angel's Roost." As the hero Ulysses, Ryan Silverman was magnificent, delivering all of his songs in a rich voice and being suitably good-looking and rugged in this part. As his wife, Penelope, Mikaela Bennett astonished with the fact that, not only did she sing and act the role faultlessly, but she was also making her professional stage debut. Let's hope that Bennett gets offered many more musical parts in New York.
Ashley Brown, Alli Mauzey, and Carrie Compere were each great in dual roles and Barton Cowperthwaite was terrific in the dance part of Paris, who does no singing or speaking in the show. Cowperthwaite was devilishly handsome and dashing and it was easy to see why Lindsay Mendez's Helen would pursue him. In the Jack Whiting role of Mayor Hector, Jason Kravits was excellent, especially in his number with the fine Jeff Blumenkrantz in the second act, "Scylla and Charybdis." About the only principal actor who fell a little short in "The Golden Apple" was N'Kenge as Mother Hare. This actress wasn't quite powerful enough in this witchlike role, but she more than made up for it in Act II, as she also played the sinuous and delectable Circe.
Rob Berman did a spectacular job as music director, leading the glorious orchestra, and it must be stated that both the musicians and the actors did full justice to the endless wonders in Jerome Morross and John Latouche's brilliant score. It is almost amazing to realize that "The Golden Apple" has finally been staged at City Center Encores!, and that the concert was pulled off so terrifically, on nearly every level. As a musical theatre fanatic who had memorized every word and note in this show, I can honestly say that this concert production of "The Golden Apple" was definitely worth the wait.
Deadline Hollywood (May 12, 2017)
Review: Alec Baldwin Segues Smoothly From Trump To Tillerson; 'Golden Apple' Revived
By Jeremy Gerard
With timing that would have been comical had it not been so chilling in light of the week's headlines out of Washington, All the President's Men? Scenes from the Senate Confirmation Hearings of President Trump's Cabinet was a one-night-only co-production of Britain's National Theatre and New York's Public Theater. Director Nicolas Kent (Hilary and Jackie) edited down the Senators' questioning and testimony of Tillerson, Attorney General-designate Jeff Sessions, Health and Human Services Secretary designate Dr. Tom Price and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator designee Scott Pruitt. (The show was first presented April 24 at the Vaudeville Theatre in London's West End.)
Kent, who was the longtime artistic director of the adventurous Tricycle Theater, led an extraordinary company that included Ellen Burstyn as Senator Elizabeth Warren, Raúl Esparza as Senator Marco Rubio, Bill Irwin as Senator Bob Corker, Ron Rifkin as Senator Bernie Sanders, Aasif Mandvi as Pruitt, Denis O'Hare as Senator Lindsay Graham, Joe Morton as Senator Patrick Leahy and New Yorker magazine editor David Remnick as Senator Al Franken. Most played multiple roles; the company included Staceyann Chin, David Costabile, Walter Bobbie, Linda Emond, Ivan Hernandez, Nathan Osgood, Regina Taylor and Yul Vazquez.
All The President's Men? is a kind of testimonial theater reminiscent of The Trial of the Catonsville Nine and Execution of Justice, rarely seen in the age of Michael Moore-style documentaries. On a stage bare but for the C-Span familiar sight of seated participants behind a long table forward-slashed with microphones, Kent and his actors played it straight down the line. The performance was largely absent italics or exaggeration in the deliverance of testimony ranging from standard-issue evasion to surreal, as when Baldwin's Tillerson – who was both evasive and surreal – prefaced his non-answers to questions about future dealing with his friends in the Russian political power chain with references to his love for the Boy Scouts and the fact that he had just addressed the group's national convention. And did I mention the Boy Scouts? he seemed to say, often.
Burstyn nearly walked off with the show simply by virtue of her impeccable recreation of Warren's almost uninterrupted state of exasperation; Rifkin's Sanders was a bit more tightly controlled. Esparza, too, was superb as a dry but forceful Rubio.
Public Theater chief Oskar Eustis welcomed the partisan audience to the historic venue – a place, he pointed out, founded nearly a century ago by suffragists and long the preferred stage for rallies, hootenannies and rabble-rousing of a left-wing bent. Indeed, the seats were filled with the people whose brows were furrowed as much in disbelief over some of the ideas being espoused on stage as by the unfolding events in the wake of the President's firing of FBI Director Comey.
On Wednesday night, City Center's Encores! closed out its season with a spectacular concert performance of The Golden Apple, a musical you've probably never heard of. It's a particularly appealing kind of Broadway flop, all but forgotten but for the one gem it produced, the song "Lazy Afternoon," which has become a standard, much the way "Once Upon A Time" survived the failure of All American.
This 1954 show, which I'm convinced was Broadway's first sung-through musical, with no spoken dialogue, took the threads of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey and spun a post-War American fantasy out of it. Set in "Angel's Roost" on the edge of Washington state's conveniently real Mt. Olympus, it retells the story of the seduction of Helen (she of the 1,000 launched ships) by Paris, who arrives, Wizard of Oz-style, in a balloon; as well as of lovers Ulysses and Penelope.
The essential silliness of an incoherent plot takes nothing away from the qualities that have made the score treasured by Broadway cultists. Composer Jerome Moross was of the Aaron Copland school, and the music has an infectiously Coplandesque appeal, careering from folksy to modern. Lyricist John Latouche brought a similar 50's modernism – some Carl Sandberg here, some Robert Frost there – which is meant as a compliment: The lyrics play wonderfully with puns, rhymes that bleed from the end of one line to the beginning of the next, and an energy that's as trippy as "Go Ask Alice" (as in "Lazy Afternoon"'s "I know a place that's quiet / except for daisies running riot / And there's no one passing by it to see / Come spend this lazy afternoon with me"). Michael Berresse staged the show, with dances by Joshua Bergasse (it's repeated through this weekend), with an emphasis on movement with plenty of innocent beef- and cheesecake. The performances by Lindsay Mendez (Helen), Barton Cowperthwite (Paris), ingenue Mikaela Bennett (Penelope) and Ryan Silverman (Ulysses) were utterly charming. But the true strength of the production – and the latest case for the importance of Encores! as if any needed making – lay in Rob Berman's musical direction of a plush-by-Broadway-standards orchestra playing Jerome Moss and Hershy Kay's spectacularly intricate, exuberant orchestrations. Earwormy bliss.
Masterworks Broadway (May 2, 2017)
The Golden Apple - At Last
By Peter Filichia
For more than two decades, the announcement of every three-show season brought disappointment to many. "Why," they asked "wasn't the Jerome Moross–John Latouche masterpiece ever chosen?"
Then last year, when artistic director Jack Viertel announced that indeed, come May 10-14, 2017, Encores! would mount a revival of this oh-so-strange-but-lovely musical, smiles of the "At last!" variety were seen all around town.
How strange is The Golden Apple? A musical of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey was considered very unlikely source material back in the '50s. That didn't deter bookwriter-lyricist Latouche – or should we just say lyricist Latouche, given that the entire show was sung? He saw the musical "as a series of interlocking production numbers."
Costume designer Alvin Colt didn't merely put twenty-six characters in the cloaks that ancient Greeks wore, for as Latouche said, "I set out to tell the stories of Ulysses and Penelope, Paris and Helen as they would have happened in America. It was to be no adaptation of Homeric grandeurs."
So Ulysses became a Spanish-American war hero who's established as "smarter than Nick Carter." No, Latouche wasn't anticipating that member of the Backstreet Boys; this Nick Carter was a detective who'd been featured in dime-store novels that kids didn't have to hide in the corn crib.
Helen became a farmer's daughter; Paris a traveling salesman; Minerva, a school teacher, and Mrs. Juniper – a nice amalgam of Juno and Jupiter – the mayor's wife. As for Aphrodite, she morphed into a matchmaker who puts her hand in here and there.
The tail would seem to have wagged the dog when Latouche set his show in the Pacific Northwest, for he made that decision only after he'd discovered that the state of Washington sported a Mount Olympus. (It was, of course, named for the original one in Greece.)
Actually, Apple could have taken place anywhere in the United States, for what Latouche really wanted to stress was the optimism that the entire country was experiencing in the early twentieth century. Once the U. S. of A. had emerged victorious in the Spanish-American War, it became a player on the world stage – which is the era Latouche put on stage.
That time frame also allowed for a score of waltzes, blues, vaudeville and ragtime. Which came first, the music or the lyrics? The latter. "The melodies I invented," Latouche liked to say when recalling the tunes he'd had in his head when he wrote the show, "have been heard only by the unhappy few nearest and dearest to me who assured me that they are among the worst they have ever heard."
Once you hear the phenomenal music that Jerome Moross composed on the Masterworks Broadway original cast album, think of what Latouche must have felt when encountering it for the first time – and every time afterward. Just from the overture, you can hear the joy, confidence and full-bodied expression of an important musical with a clean Aaron Copland-ish sound. Lovers of sopranos will have a feast here, mostly thanks to Priscilla Gillette, who did the show four years after she'd scored in Cole Porter's Out of This World.
"My Love Is on the Way" and "It's the Going Home Together" must rank as two of musical theater's most beautiful songs. But the score's famous take-home tune is "Lazy Afternoon." Such disparate singers as Tony Bennett, Eddie Fisher, Marlene Dietrich, Barbra Streisand, Pat Suzuki and Sarah Vaughan wound up covering it. In the show, it's the song of seduction that Helen sings to Paris.
That Helen was played by Kaye Ballard may seem a tad odd, for, beloved and accomplished comedian that she's always been, she doesn't come immediately to mind as a woman whose beauty would launch a thousand ships.
"Helen ain't smart and she's always plain," the Spanish-American war veterans concede before telling what most appeals to them: "Helen is always willin'."
(Maybe those men got on those thousand ships to avoid paternity suits.)
When I recently learned that Mike Todd was the first to take an option on Apple, I was shocked. I thought back to the 1993 bio-musical Ain't Broadway Grand, where Todd was shown producing an artsy, unconventional and uncommercial musical. No, I thought then, the producer of Star and Garter, Call Me Ziggy, Michael Todd's Peep Show and Gypsy Rose Lee's The Naked Genius would have never tackled anything remotely artful. Although Todd didn't wind up producing Apple, my discovering that he even seriously considered it made me walk back my Ain't Broadway Grand assumption.
The Golden Apple was judged "the only literate new musical of the season" (Atkinson, Times). "The best thing that has happened in and to the theater in a very long time." (Chapman, News). A milestone" (McClain, Journal American). Although Coleman in the Mirror called it "a sheer delight," Watts in the Post was even stronger: "A thorough delight."
Throughout the off-Broadway run, Moross and Latouche were often asked the question that Frank Loesser would hear in 1956 when his The Most Happy Fella debuted: "Is it a musical or an opera?" Loesser said his show was "a musical with a lotta music;" by then, Moross had been saying much the same by stating, "Our starting point had always been from the 'musical comedy' rather than the 'operatic' theatre."
In the New York Critics Circle voting for the 1953–54 season, The Golden Apple won the prize as Best Musical – the first off-Broadway show to win. (Fans of The Pajama Game, don't be offended; yes, it technically belonged to that season, but the critics voted a month before it would open.)
Apple got thirteen votes, far outpacing By the Beautiful Sea with three. Snagging a single one each were John Murray Anderson's Almanac and even The Threepenny Opera in its famous off-Broadway revival.
The real surprise was that Kismet, which would win that season's Tony as Best Musical, got no votes at all. But remember, its reviews weren't so hot. A newspaper strike stopped readers of dailies from learning that their appraisers thought badly of the Baghdad-centric musical. So Kismet wound up running 583 performances – more than four times as Apple's 125 once it had moved to Broadway.
On May 24, 1954, Life magazine did a cover story on "Broadway's Most Imaginative Season." It could have put Harry Belafonte, Shirley Booth, Victor Borge, Joseph Cotten, Alfred Drake, Henry Fonda, John Forsythe, Audrey Hepburn, Zizi Jeanmaire, Deborah Kerr, Cloris Leachman, Tina Louise, John Raitt, Margaret Sullavan or Gig Young on the cover to make its point, for all were performing on Broadway that week. But the editors chose Ballard and The Golden Apple.
The title is meant literally. The golden apple is the prize for a baking contest whose winner will be decided by the judgment of Paris. "If you own this lucky pippin, you'll be certain of success," sings Mother Hare, an updated Circe. "Twill be sure to bring your ship in through storm and stress." (Catch that nifty internal rhyme?) Getting an original cast album was another first for an off-Broadway musical. What RCA Victor recorded was essentially The Golden Apple's Greatest Hits because the disc contains a little less than half the show. Latouche penned some rhymed couplets to bridge the missing songs and those appear on the album.
One must wonder what would have happened if Columbia original cast album guru Goddard Lieberson had signed it for his label. Would he have recorded it on three records as he would do for The Most Happy Fella? At least what RCA did record is choice.
(Actually, a full Golden Apple recording was made in 2014 of a live performance in Irving, Texas that featured local talent.)
More interesting is that after RCA Victor took the album out of print, Elektra re-released it. This company was known for purveying folk albums by the likes of Theodore Bikel, Phil Ochs and Tom Paxton, so its adopting The Golden Apple is just another indication of what an atypical property the Moross-Latouche musical is.
Next week is the time to get to New York's City Center to see this oh-so-rare revival. If you can't, the original cast album is ready to show you The Golden Apple's glorious music and smart lyrics.
New York City Center (April 13, 2017)
The Cult of THE GOLDEN APPLE
By Matt Weinstock
For devotees, the only audience truly worthy of The Golden Apple was the one present on opening night. On March 11, 1954, the Phoenix Theatre resembled "a vast Sardi's": Gore Vidal was there, looking vaguely "Luciferian," and Marlene Dietrich muscled her way backstage after the performance to demand the orchestration for "Lazy Afternoon." (By June, the song was in her club act.) Tennessee Williams and Frank Merlo missed the opening, but wrote that they'd "heard the shouting" all the way from 58th Street.
For the producers, the real triumph had been coaxing people to make the schlep to the East Village. Off-Broadway was still an alien concept in the early 1950s, to the point that Phoenix Theatre co-founder Norris Houghton felt compelled to walk theatergoers through the process of leaving midtown. "Second Avenue is one-way southbound," he explained, "and once you have a green light, the trip is non-stop from the East 50s on staggered lights."
Housed in a former Yiddish theater on 12th Street and Second Avenue, the Phoenix had been founded in 1953 as a sandbox for experimentation far from the commercial pressures of Broadway. "We wanted to see on the stage things we doubted we would see if we didn't do them," Houghton wrote. In the inaugural season, those "things" included six-week runs of Montgomery Clift in The Seagull, John Houseman's Coriolanus, and The Golden Apple.
The Phoenix was a shoestring affair. The floors were caked with chewing gum, the lightbulbs in the dressing rooms kept burning out, and the orchestra seats were conspicuously squeaky despite "continual and energetic oiling." One night, when the bathrooms ran low on toilet paper, actor Jerry Stiller dashed out and bought a few rolls with his own money. "That was when I got my first taste of social consciousness about the theater," he recalled in 1996. The actors rehearsed in the Bagel Bakers Union building, ate borscht on their lunch breaks, and saw The Golden Apple as a labor of love. At $55 a week, it had to be. "I thought it was very sophisticated," says Kaye Ballard, who played Helen. "I would joke backstage, 'Once in a while, I miss a pie in the face, you know?'"
Ballard had the opportunity to do a little shtick on opening night. The orchestra conductor dropped his score right before "Lazy Afternoon," forcing Ballard to ad-lib for three minutes while he fished around for the pages. In the final moments of Act Two, Latouche fled the theater and sat on the lobby steps, sobbing. "They've ruined my second act—they've ruined it—spoiled everything!" he said. (Today, nobody is clear on what was ruined, or who "they" were.)
Backstage melodrama aside, the show had all the symptoms of a smash. Ballard made the cover of Life magazine and the production moved to the Alvin Theatre (now the Neil Simon) that April, becoming the first Off-Broadway musical to transfer to Broadway. An esoteric little moonbeam in a theater district dominated by The Pajama Game and Kismet, Moross and Latouche's "opera for Broadway" wound up closing after four months. "It wasn't the sort of show ticket scalpers could sell," said production assistant Hope Abelson.
Despite the brevity of its run, the show managed to rouse the ire of McCarthyites. The anti-Communist newsletter Counterattack railed against the musical's "slick mockery of various aspects of American life," concluding that "Moscow owes a vote of thanks to the many critics who have heaped praise on The Golden Apple."
A few years later the Phoenix Theatre itself was accused of Communist leanings—but it survived, and continued to produce idiosyncratic work for the next 30 years. In 1959, Once Upon a Mattress premiered at the Phoenix. Harold Prince and Sidney Lumet directed their first plays there; Barbara Harris, Wendy Wasserstein, and Meryl Streep scored early successes there.
To Prince, the Phoenix was "the closest our country has come to the Royal National Theater." Critics carped that the company had no defining credo—but as Anne Cattaneo once explained, "That was its mission, not to have a consistent identity. It's born out of an egg, it dies, and it's born again."
Now that The Golden Apple is being reborn at Encores!, its reputation as Broadway caviar is worth reexamining. In the era of Michael John LaChiusa and Adam Guettel, the score seems newly approachable; for Kaye Ballard, it has always been an emotionally limpid work. "I understood it in 1954," she says. "I don't understand how I understood it, because I'm an Italian from Cleveland. But as sophisticated as The Golden Apple was, it was simple, too. It's to love the you that's me, and the me that's you—I mean, how can you not understand
New York Daily News (May 11, 2017)
'The Golden Apple' shines intermittently at Encores!
By Joe Dziemianowicz
The peculiar sung-through cult fave from 1954 by Jerome Moross (music) and John Latouche (book and lyrics) transplants Homer's "Iliad" and "Odyssey" from ancient Greece into early 1900s America. And how do we like them theater apples? It's hit and myth, frankly.
Helen (a saucy Lindsay Mendez) is a man-magnet who has dibs on the breakout song, "Lazy Afternoon." Ulysses (a burly-lunged Ryan Silverman) is a nice-guy-but-naive farmer just home from the war. Paris (the nimble Barton Cowperthwaite) is a salesman who travels by balloon, blows through women and never says a word. His long legs — and other parts — talk for him. And so it goes.
The delightful and punchy orchestral prelude gets things off to a rousing start — but it's a mixed bag from there. Suffice it to say that compacting the whole Trojan War and its aftermath gets a bit zzz-inducing. Thank a siren's crimson costume for a much-needed wake-up call.
Director Michael Berresse has assembled a game and talented cast of Broadway vets and new faces. Mikaela Bennett, a fourth-year Juilliard undergrad, plays Ulysses' loyal wife Penelope. Her silvery singing makes this "Golden Apple" gleam.
When all is said and sung, the seldom-performed show is a curiosity worth seeing. And Encores!, dedicated to dusting off vintage musicals, is the place to do that through Sunday at City Center.
NewYorkTheatre.Me (May 14, 2017)
The Golden Apple Review: Glorious American Music, Silly Homeric Satire
It's hard to picture a more apt musical for the long running "concert series" at New York City Center, since the score is delightful, a veritable catalogue of mid-twentieth century American music — Copland-like orchestral, operetta, jazz, ragtime, vaudeville, country and get-down blues (including the hit song Lazy Afternoon, which has been interpreted by Tony Bennett, Marlene Dietrich, Eartha Kitt and Barbra Streisand, among others) – all composed by a man, Jerome Moross, who never wrote another Broadway musical. At the same time, the book by John Latouche is a busy, overly ambitious effort to transpose Homer's epics The Iliad and The Odyssey to the State of Washington in 1900, attempting satire, more often achieving…cutesiness and clutter. Although many have praised Latouche's lyrics (sample: "Miss Helen is a blue-eyed daisy/If I don't get her, I'll go crazy.") I am surely not alone in finding them inadequate for a full-length, sung-through musical. Possible proof: The original Broadway production lasted about four months. A full-on revival seems unlikely.
And so, it's left to Encores! to allow us to revel in the seduction of the slutty farmer's daughter Helen (the funny and mellifluous Lindsay Mendez) by Paris, a traveling salesman who arrives in the rural Washington town of Angel's Roost (near Mt. Olympus of course) via hot-air balloon. Paris is portrayed by the spectacular dancer Barton Cowperthwaite, who never opens his mouth, speaking eloquently with his torso, hands and feet – part of the eye-catching choreography by Joshua Bergasse. It is up to Ulysses, the always reliable and frequently swoon-worthy Ryan Silverman, to bring Helen back, thus separating once again from his wife Penelope, portrayed by golden-voiced newcomer Mikaela Bennett, who is still an undergraduate at Juilliard.
That's all just in the first act, and I left out a lot. I don't have the stamina to go into a detailed description of the second, which takes place largely in the slick city of Rhododendron and takes us through all seven deadly sins for some reason, including an extended soft-shoe routine and a song, "Goona Goona," by a character named Lovely Mars (the incomparably lovely Carrie Compere), dressed in sultry red, with the lyrics:
By a goona goona goona By a goona goona goona lagoon We will croon-a croon-a croon-a We will croon-a croon-a real jungle tune
Lovely Mars is playing The Siren – you know, like the Sirens in The Odyssey whose angelic voices lure strong men to their doom? The next song is, logically, "Doomed Doomed Doomed," although it features, not Ulysses' men, but a scientist….
So….still, I hope they issue a cast recording.
New York Times (May 11, 2017)
Review: A Game Effort at Polishing Up 'The Golden Apple'
By Jesse Green
But failure alone does not suffice. A cult musical must also plummet directly into obscurity; if too many people know about it, how can it be the exclusive delight of connoisseurs? Then, too, there must be something of great quality that justifies the delight, and also something that doesn't. The best such musicals are a bit outré, a bit funky, a bit too fey or fine to survive in their own time, and maybe even in ours.
This is why we have the Encores! series, whose mission to glorify the peculiar treasures in America's musical-theater attic has brought us such otherwise unproducible works as the Gershwins' "Pardon My English" and, earlier this season, Cole Porter's "The New Yorkers." The revival of "The Golden Apple" that opened Wednesday night at City Center tops them all, not only in being the cultiest cult musical Encores! has ever attempted, but also in making a marvelous if last-ditch case for it.
That case does not depend much on the story, which moves the mythic figures to a rural village called Angel's Roost and a slick nearby city called Rhododendron. Those names should give you a feel for the level of satire involved, although it is fascinating, and a bit depressing, to realize that in 1954 the show's creators — the composer Jerome Moross and the librettist John Latouche — could count on an audience's familiarity with ancient epics to make the jokes pay off. Helen is the local easy gal; Paris a slick traveling salesman who arrives by balloon. Ulysses has just returned to Penelope from the Spanish-American War full of big-stick enthusiasm: "Oh Theodore Oh Theodore," he and his hearty mates sing, "the Roosevelt that we adore." (Latouche's lyrics are nothing if not assertively rhymed.) The beauty contest that foments the crisis is, here, a bake-off.
These are the ingredients of a camp Americana operetta, which is what "The Golden Apple" could so easily have been. But oh, the music: 135 glorious minutes of it, unsullied by dialogue. Moross, best known for his film scores to westerns including "The Big Country," was a member of Aaron Copland's coterie and brings the familiar sound we call American, with its modal harmonies and widely spaced voicings, to a work of astonishing breadth and beauty.
There are, of course, plenty of genre pastiches in it: soft-shoe, jazz, ragtime, hoedowns. These are highly effective, but the glory of "The Golden Apple" is a series of complex musical scenes and let's-call-them-arias that define their own territory. "Lazy Afternoon," Helen's ripe plum of a blues, is the most obvious winner, having been recorded by singers as diverse as Kaye Ballard (the original Helen), Tony Bennett and Barbra Streisand. Here Lindsay Mendez sings it like it's a brand-new thought.
Among other highlights, a duet for Penelope and Ulysses ("It's the Going Home Together") and a solo for Penelope ("Windflowers") extend well beyond musical-theater formulas to the realm of art song. Hearing them beautifully rendered by Ryan Silverman (as Ulysses) and the newcomer Mikaela Bennett (as Penelope) feels like getting out from under the clouds on a night flight over water.
And there are clouds. As a story, "The Golden Apple" is not the emotional experience its authors presumably intended. No one would mistake it for Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma!" or "Carousel," with which it shares some dark folkloric aspects. The winking allusions to Homer, and the mania to fulfill certain midcentury entertainment expectations, ensure that pressing matters of love and fidelity, pride and temptation, are, except in those arias, too blandly packaged to sting. You can hardly expect a work that collapses the Trojan War into one number (a boxing bout) and the whole of "The Odyssey" into a longish vaudeville scene, to engage feelings of pity and terror the way the source material can. It is both too abstract and too synthetic for that.
In its hasty fidelity, the production, directed by Michael Berresse, emphasizes those ersatz upbeat traits. Though the simple setting by Allen Moyer comes complete with a just-right backdrop in the style of Grandma Moses, the overall tone is, as in many Encores! productions, generically cheerful and cute. There is way too much mimed jollity. And because "The Golden Apple" is such a large undertaking, with a cast of 40 and lots of choreography (by Joshua Bergasse), there is also, in this case, a winded feeling, not surprising after just 10 days of rehearsal. Six weeks would not have been too many for such a complicated undertaking.
There's nothing Encores! can do about that under its current financing, and there are some compensatory charms in the production's make-do spirit. But those raggedy charms are shown up by the high professional gloss of its music, which is delivered by a luxurious orchestra of 31, much larger than the original. The orchestrations, by Mr. Moross and Hershy Kay, are among the best ever heard in the series, and are given their full due. The singing, under Rob Berman's musical direction, is stellar.
All of which raises the Encores! paradox. Since the series began in 1994, staged concerts have gradually given way to very full productions. Rarely nowadays do you see an actor carrying, let alone consulting, a script. A dancer as stylish as the Lar Lubovitch alumnus Barton Cowperthwaite, as Paris, can expect real bravura opportunities. But the nature of musicals is such that high-caliber performances of sung material can be achieved much more quickly than satisfying stagings, and as the productions have grown more ambitious, the achievement has sometimes felt shallower.
I offer no solution, and am not even sure this is a problem. I, too, am a cultist and want the full cult experience. If that includes a bit of funk in the ambrosia, as it does in "The Golden Apple," so be it.
Onstage, Review, Worldwide (May 16, 2017)
The Golden Apple – Encores! – New York City Center
By Ron Cohen
Long regarded as a cult favorite, The Golden Apple was the first musical to transfer from Off-Broadway to Broadway, where it managed to attain a short run of only 125 performances. Perhaps, its over-weening ambition and classical literary conceits were a bit too much for mainstream audiences of the time.
The sung-through libretto is a gleeful take on the Homeric epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey. It's set, in fable-like fashion, in the state of Washington, situated at the northwest edge of the USA, where quite fortuitously there is a mountain dubbed Mount Olympus.
The time is circa 1900. The inhabitants of the farm town, Angel's Roost, are greeting the fellows coming back from the Spanish-American War. The main characters include the returning hero Ulysses, and his wife Penelope. There is also the town's irrepressible party girl, Helen, now supposedly settled down in marriage to the older Menelaus, the town sheriff.
However, when Paris, a travelling salesman, lands in town, it's mutual seduction time. Paris carries Helen off to the big city of Rhododendron, and to bring her back, the guys of Angel's Roost, once again led by Ulysses, march off to war and fantastical soul-testing adventures.
The music by Jerome Moross and the lyrics/book by John Latouche are virtually seamless, as the score stretches from ragtime and vaudeville to vintage musical theatre balladry and operatic glory. The abundance of on-the-money pastiches are enough to perhaps make even Stephen Sondheim a bit envious.
Moross (1913-1983), a composer of classical as well as theatre music, had his greatest success as a composer of background music for movie Westerns. His score here often reflects the energy and expansive of that music. Latouche's name may have more resonance with musical theatre devotees. In his relatively short life (he died in 1956 at age 41), he created lyrics for such shows as Pins and Needles and Cabin in the Sky and the opera The Ballad of Baby Doe.
While not awash with major marquee names, the cast burst with one formidable talent after another. Ryan Silverman, who has gained acclaim and various award nominations in such productions as the Off-Broadway revival of Passion and the Broadway revival of Side Show, played Ulysses.
He imbued the role with a baritone that rang out with clarion clarity, along with a tremendously affable macho authority, whether he was leading the ensemble in the jaunty 'Store-bought Suit' or taking the stage alone with the commanding 'Ulysses' Soliloquy'.
As Penelope, Mikaela Bennett made an amazing professional stage debut with top-drawer diva authority, meshed with an inherent sweetness. (She's a fourth-year undergraduate at the famed Juilliard School.)
Her negotiation of the stratospheric passages of Penelope's climactic 'Tirade' was, to put it mildly, thrilling. Her duets with Silverman in such numbers as 'It's the Going Home Together' and 'We've Just Begun' soared to a Rodgers-and-Hammerstein-like peak of gorgeousness.
The show's most enduring number, 'Lazy Afternoon', fell to the character of Helen, and it was rendered with all its slow-paced inviting sexiness by Lindsay Mendez.
Mendez, who counts among her Broadway turns the misunderstood but beloved Elphaba of Wicked, imbued Helen with soul as well as impishness. The role is a unique star turn and Mendez lived up to it completely.
Paris, a dance role, was fulfilled to perfection by Barton Cowperthwaite. His slinking was both submissive and seductive (and physically astounding with slow-motion handstands and back bends) as he listened to Helen's invitation to share a lazy afternoon.
Among other notables in the cast, Jason Kravits made a happily insidious guide for Ulysses and pals as they went from one sampling of sin to another.
Ashley Brown, Carrie Compere and Alli Mauzey were a lively trio of prominent townswomen, while Jeff Blumenkrantz was a properly miffed Menelaus. Adding to the wondrous rendering of high notes was N'Kenge as the town's resident psychic.
As might be expected, dance plays an important role in the production. Director Berresse is a choreographer as well and gained some of his earlier performer acclaim on Broadway in the dance role of Bill Carlson in the 1999 revival of Kiss Me, Kate.
Like the score, Bergasse's choreography moved breathtakingly through genres, with generous helpings of Martha Graham suppleness, Agnes De Mille piquant Americana, and Bob Fosse muscle-twitching.
The question that often accompanies an Encores! production is, will it transfer to Broadway. Its revival of Chicagocontinues to make Broadway history. As for The Golden Apple, it may still be too much of a good thing for Broadway producers eyeing the average Broadway ticket-buyer. But one thing's for sure: the seven performances of this Encores! production could only have added mightily to its cult mystique
Playbill (May 10, 2017)
The Cult of John LaTouche's The Golden Apple and Its Long-Awaited Encores! Debut
By Matt Weinstock
By 1955, people were already lying about having seen The Golden Apple. To have caught the show was a mark of erudition, a sort of homosexual epaulet. Writer James McCourt included the musical on his "free-association '50s queer syllabus" alongside Allen Ginsberg, Eartha Kitt, Rancho Notorious, and Captain Marvel. To be counted among New York's gay elite, he explained, "You had to know the lyrics to all the songs."
Dubbed "an instantaneous cult item" by the Daily News, the musical's legend has only grown since the 1950s. Based on the Iliad and the Odyssey, the Jerome Moross-John Latouche musical resets the Greek myths in turn-of-the-century America, complete with hot-air balloons, boxing matches, and pie-baking contests. True believers covet The Golden Apple; they "guard" it, to borrow the lingo of one Facebook fan page. The show seems fragile, somehow, too divinely sophisticated to survive in the world.
For devotees, the only audience truly worthy of The Golden Apple was the one present on opening night. On March 11, 1954, the Phoenix Theatre resembled "a vast Sardi's": Gore Vidal was there, looking vaguely "Luciferian," and Marlene Dietrich muscled her way backstage after the performance to demand the orchestration for "Lazy Afternoon." (By June, the song was in her club act.) Tennessee Williams and Frank Merlo missed the opening, but wrote that they'd "heard the shouting" all the way from 58th Street.
For the producers, the real triumph had been coaxing people to make the schlep to the East Village. Off-Broadway was still an alien concept in the early 1950s, to the point that Phoenix Theatre co-founder Norris Houghton felt compelled to walk theatergoers through the process of leaving midtown. "Second Avenue is one-way southbound," he explained, "and once you have a green light, the trip is non-stop from the East 50s on staggered lights."
Housed in a former Yiddish theatre on 12th Street and Second Avenue, the Phoenix had been founded in 1953 as a sandbox for experimentation far from the commercial pressures of Broadway. "We wanted to see on the stage things we doubted we would see if we didn't do them," Houghton wrote. In the inaugural season, those "things" included six-week runs of Montgomery Clift in The Seagull, John Houseman's Coriolanus, and The Golden Apple.
The Phoenix was a shoestring affair. The floors were caked with chewing gum, the lightbulbs in the dressing rooms kept burning out, and the orchestra seats were conspicuously squeaky despite "continual and energetic oiling." One night, when the bathrooms ran low on toilet paper, actor Jerry Stiller dashed out and bought a few rolls with his own money. "That was when I got my first taste of social consciousness about the theatre," he recalled in 1996.
The actors rehearsed in the Bagel Bakers Union building, ate borscht on their lunch breaks, and saw The Golden Apple as a labor of love. At $55 a week, it had to be. "I thought it was very sophisticated," says Kaye Ballard, who played Helen. "I would joke backstage, 'Once in a while, I miss a pie in the face, you know?'"
Ballard had the opportunity to do a little shtick on opening night. The orchestra conductor dropped his score right before "Lazy Afternoon," forcing Ballard to ad-lib for three minutes while he fished around for the pages. In the final moments of Act Two, Latouche fled the theatre and sat on the lobby steps, sobbing. "They've ruined my second act—they've ruined it—spoiled everything!" he said. (Today, nobody is clear on what was ruined, or who "they" were.)
Backstage melodrama aside, the show had all the symptoms of a smash. Ballard made the cover of Life magazine and the production moved to the Alvin Theatre (now the Neil Simon) that April, becoming the first Off-Broadway musical to transfer to Broadway. An esoteric little moonbeam in a theatre district dominated by The Pajama Game and Kismet, Moross and Latouche's "opera for Broadway" wound up closing after four months. "It wasn't the sort of show ticket scalpers could sell," said production assistant Hope Abelson.
Despite the brevity of its run, the show managed to rouse the ire of McCarthyites. The anti-Communist newsletter Counterattack railed against the musical's "slick mockery of various aspects of American life," concluding that "Moscow owes a vote of thanks to the many critics who have heaped praise on The Golden Apple." A few years later the Phoenix Theatre itself was accused of Communist leanings—but it survived, and continued to produce idiosyncratic work for the next 30 years. In 1959, Once Upon a Mattress premiered at the Phoenix. Harold Prince and Sidney Lumet directed their first plays there; Barbara Harris, Wendy Wasserstein, and Meryl Streep scored early successes there.
To Prince, the Phoenix was "the closest our country has come to the Royal National Theater." Critics carped that the company had no defining credo—but as Anne Cattaneo once explained, "That was its mission, not to have a consistent identity. It's born out of an egg, it dies, and it's born again."
Now that The Golden Apple is being reborn at Encores!, its reputation as Broadway caviar is worth reexamining. In the era of Michael John LaChiusa and Adam Guettel, the score seems newly approachable; for Kaye Ballard, it has always been an emotionally limpid work. "I understood it in 1954," she says. "I don't understand how I understood it, because I'm an Italian from Cleveland. But as sophisticated as The Golden Apple was, it was simple, too. It's to love the you that's me, and the me that's you—I mean, how can you not understand that?"
Playbill (May 12, 2017)
What Makes The Golden Apple Sound 'American'?
By Rob Berman
Theatre Pizzazz (May 12, 2017)
The Golden Apple
By Brian Scott Lipton
Moreover, The Golden Apple is the kind of show Encores! takes seriously, as evidenced here by the thoughtful direction of Michael Berresse and the often enchanting choreography of Joshua Bergasse (which alternately echoes the work of Michael Kidd, Agnes DeMille, Bob Fosse, and Martha Graham). Their dedicated work goes a long way in both showing off the musical's strengths (namely, a tuneful score that includes such gems as "Lazy Afternoon" and "It's the Going Home Together") and trying to cover up its weaknesses (which include an overly long vaudeville-like sequence concerning the seven deadly sins that dominates the second act.)
One must also credit the Herculean efforts put forth by a star-studded cast led by such top-notch talents as the vocally powerful and forthright Ryan Silverman as the heroic (if naïve) Ulysses and the ever-winning Lindsay Mendez as the sly, slutty Helen. But it's two people you've probably never heard of who actually walk off with this production.
Mikaela Bennett, a fourth-year Juilliard student with a sterling soprano and vocal timbre remarkably reminiscent of Juilliard alum Audra McDonald, is a revelation as Ulysses' long-suffering wife Penelope. Her rendition of the gorgeous "Wildflowers" is quite beautiful, and she generates a believable chemistry with Silverman. See her now and say later you saw her then.
Almost as exciting is watching Barton Cowperthwaite, a lithe, ultra-athletic ballet dancer, who consistently commands the stage in the silent role of Paris, the traveling salesman who briefly steals Helen away from her home and husband Meneleaus (the always welcome Jeff Blumenkrantz). At times, this model-handsome man seems to be made of nothing more than rubber.
Among the large, well-chosen supporting cast, the fabulous N'Kenge is a standout in the dual roles of the gypsy-like Mother Hare and the seductive Circe. Jason Kravits, neatly employing the old soft shoe, has great fun as Hector Charybdis, who engineers revenge on Ulysses and his men after Helen returns home. Meanwhile, Broadway veterans Ashley Brown, Carrie Compere, and Alli Mauzey each get two characters to play and two chances to shine (with Brown taking top honors for her second-act turn as Madame Calypso, one of the many women who leads Ulysses' fellow warriors to an untimely end.)
Admittedly, there will be some audiences who will find this unwieldy show less-than-delicious, and some may even leave the theater with a sour taste in their mouths. But, at the very least, The Golden Apple is no longer on the shopping wish list by those theatergoers who have been asking Encores! to tackle the show for many years.
Theatrescene.com (May 2017)
The Golden Apple
By Deirdre Donovan
John Latouche (book) and Jerome Moross' (music and lyrics) 1954 cult classic, which is a retelling of The Iliad and The Odyssey, drew raves when it premiered Off Broadway on March 11th, 1954 at the (now-defunct) Phoenix Theatre. In fact, many then felt that the show might be the next-big-thing on Broadway. However, when it transferred to Broadway a month later, it failed to flutter the pulses of the uptown sophisticates. True, it did survive the spring season on the Great White Way. But when the summer arrived, and the heat along with it, box office sales for The Golden Apple dried up.
So has the time come to partake of The Golden Apple again? Well, yes and no. It has plenty of songs that are delicious to the ear and the literary borrowings from Homer, if not plummeting his psychological depths, keep his classical spice intact. Still, we live in the age of Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. So can an audience today step-up (or is it back?) to grasp the quasi-classical world conjured up in The Golden Apple? Well, it depends on the viewer. The work is populated with a mash-up of mythic Greek and fictive American characters. And they sure can generate some pretty outrageous goings-on in the town of Angel's Roost and, later on, at the Seaport of Rhododendron.
Latouche and Moross set The Golden Apple in America between 1900 and 1910, when the Battle of San Juan Hill and the name of Theodore Roosevelt and his "Rough Riders" still loomed large in the American imagination. Unsurprisingly, their musical smacks of bold adventure, with one foot planted firmly in mythology, and the other in Americana. According to the character Helen, "Nothing ever happens in Angel's Roost!" But as the plot unspools, you soon discover that you can't believe everything you hear in town. In fact, before the finale arrives, you will have watched a slimmed-down and Americanized version of the Trojan War with Ulysses adventures tossed in as a bonus. (And guess who stirs up most of the excitement in town?)
The show's strengths? No doubt it was the ensemble's singing and acting. Lindsay Mendez, playing Helen, was the epitome of the floozy who's born to flirt and sashay like a femme fatale on the prowl. Her Act 1 solo, "Lazy Afternoon," is the most celebrated song from the show, and Mendez, with her terrific pipes slowly teasing out each note in the melody, didn't disappoint.
Barton Cowperthwaite, as the cad Paris, literally and metaphorically danced himself into Helen's heart in the same Orchard Scene (choreography by Joshua Bergasse). But it was the elopement episode a beat later, where Paris airlifts Helen in a hot-air balloon to depart for Rhododendron, that is by far the most spectacular moment in the show.
The reliable Jeff Blumenkrantz was well-cast as Helen's husband Menelaus. Blumenkrantz, who has a talent for playing characters down on their luck, really was in his element as the cuckolded husband. Mikaela Bennett, as the patient Penelope, was a revelation here. Her first solo "My Love is on the Way" gave you a taste of her vocal virtuosity. But her Act 2 solo "Windflowers" would persuade anyone within earshot that this young artist has a future on New York stages.
The conducting and orchestrations (by Rob Berman) throughout were scrumptious from the prelude to the very last notes of the finale. The strings, the brass, the woodwinds, and the percussion all sounded crisp, rich, and in key. Yes, the musicians are an integral part of each Encores! performance, and without upstaging the cast, their presence is palpable on stage.
Directed by Michael Berresse, this Golden Apple had some shining moments and lots of fun tossed into its mythological world. But, truth be told, it was caviar to the general, and not for the popcorn-and-soda crowd.
Time Square Chronicles (May 11, 2017)
The Golden Apple: The Mincemeat Pie that Triggered the Trojan War
It's a strange piece of work to say the least, and doesn't flow forward like a modern musical or even like those classics that are restaged time after time. Overall, it feels at moments as long and drawn out as the epic poems of Homer, namely the Iliad and Odyssey, that it was based upon. Writer John Latouche drops The Green Apple down into a fictional America that is immortalized by the better and more classic musical, Oklahoma. They envelope it with country folk dancing in the town square, a pie baking contest, a ladies' sewing circle, and a hot air balloon that floats into town carrying a traveling salesman. There are returning heroes, three competitive bakers (Carrie Compere, Ashley Brown, Alli Mauzey), and a dooms-day preaching fortune teller named Mother Hare (N'Kenge). And the golden apple that gets the trouble started.
As Greek legend would have it, a golden apple was thrown into a ceremony by Eris, the goddess of discord, and claimed by three others: Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite because of the inscription that read "for/to the most beautiful". Zeus, not wanting to get involved assigned the task to Paris of Troy so that it would be he that awarded the prize. As each goddess desperately wants the prize, they each offer Paris a gift as a bribe in return for the apple; Hera offers to make him the king of Europe and Asia (money), Athena offers him wisdom and skill in battle (smarts), and Aphrodite offers to give to him as a wife a most beautiful woman, Helen of Sparta, who is already married (sex). Paris chooses Helen, a decision that causes his own destruction and starts the Trojan War.
Center that story around a few pie making women at a contest in small town America, and it becomes crystal clear where the title is derived. With the glorious melodies transporting us from ancient Greece to the rural heartland of Angel's Roost, on the edge of Mt. Olympus, where nothing much happens, as we are told by the delightful Helen. Played with a wonderful edge of mischief and feistiness by Lindsay Mendez (Significant Others, Dogfight), Helen sings of her boredom in the town in that first great song, but Act I and the beginning of Act II show the falseness of that claim. A tremendous amount happens to the wonderful townsfolk of Angel's Roost. It's fun and easygoing, like a good frolic through a field and a fun barn dance. It incorporates a band of returning soldiers, lead by the rich voiced Ulysses, played by the magnificent and handsome Ryan Silverman (Side Show, Chicago) who sings of his love for his faithful wife Penelope, a beautifully voiced Mikaela Bennett (making her professional stage debut) and their home with such power that we actually believe him. As does she. Until she sees otherwise. Ulysses will not be satisfied by the quiet town of Angel's Roost.
The other soldiers returning home from service in the Spanish-American war are mostly interested in another woman, the legendary vixen of adoration, the sexy Helen. Mendez makes us completely understand why men would do the things legend records them doing for this amazing woman. She's playful and spontaneous, and with the clever line, "all right, my dear, you talked me into it", to the ever-silent Paris, the handsome young man who floats into town in that balloon, we totally believe in her ability to be reckless and endearing all in the same moment. Her rendition of the famous (although not to me) 'Lazy Afternoon' is as sultry and sexy as can be, sung with a sensual slowness to the ballet dancing Paris (Barton Cowperthwaite) who interestingly never utters a word. Her performance is not to be missed.
Helen runs away with Paris, and as the story goes, the soldiers must go and bring her back. It doest take much to incite these young men onto their next quest. So off they go. The big city is filled with foolish big city folk that, in some ways, comments very wisely on the easily duped masses of America (i.e. Trump voters). Ulysses manages, fairly easily, to get Helen to return to her husband back in quiet Angel's Roost, in the chaotic 'The Taking of Rhododendron'. But once Helen leaves the big city and returns home, the story starts to wear thin. As Ulysses and company are slowly ushered through the sins of the big city by the devilishly fun Hector Charybdis (a wonderfully soft shoe dancing Jason Kravits giving us a glorious Jimmy Durente-esque number, 'Hector's Song'), the parade of vices start to weigh on our senses. I must admit I wanted the soldiers to be dispatched a bit more quickly, so we could return to Angel's Roost, and catch up where we left off. I think I wanted to return home to Penelope and that glorious voice of Bennett much faster then Ulysses. The numerous songs that happen after Helen leaves Rhododendron feel as long as his ten year absence; each named after a different hurdle that the original Ulysses survived; 'Calypso', 'Scylla and Charybdis', 'Goona-Goona', 'Doomed, Doomed, Doomed', 'Circe' to the final 'Ulysses' Soliloquy'. But once those trials are completed, and one by one the soldier boys disappear (which couldn't happen fast enough if you ask me), we finally get the reunion we were waiting for.
Reviewing an Encores! production is a bit of a challenge because in a way they aren't meant to be taken in the same way as a fully staged Broadway musical revival. Their shows are like entertainment mixed with a history lesson, and anyone who reads my blog knows, I love a good bit of theatre history. To imagine the magnificent Kaye Ballard singing 'Lazy Afternoon' back in 1954 as wonderfully as Mendez does here, is a wonderful experience and gift. Us New Yorkers are lucky to have this glorious opportunity to see shows like The Golden Apple that would never work in today's theatrical climate staged as wonderfully rich as this production at New York City Center Encores! It's not a perfect show, and at times it feels as tedious as a lecture on Homer's the Odyssey, but the magnificence of the vocal talent collected here to sing this rich music is a gift from the Gods, like that golden apple handed down from Zeus. But this time, I doubt it will cause a war.
Village Voice (June 1, 2017)
At City Center, A Too-Brief Concert Staging Revealed The Core Of "The Golden Apple"
By Michael Feingold
After years of requests from diehard fans, City Center's Encores! finally put up, on May 10–14, a staged concert of the 1954 musical The Golden Apple. It drew a mixed response, which wasn't surprising: The show, by librettist John Latouche and composer Jerome Moross, has been drawing mixed responses since it opened at Off-Broadway's Phoenix Theatre, on March 11, 1954, where it triggered enough critical enthusiasm to transfer, a month later, to Broadway's Alvin Theatre (now the Neil Simon), where, critical enthusiasm notwithstanding, it expired thanks to sparse ticket sales after a mere 125 performances. For years, a single-disc LP of excerpts from its substantial, sung-through score was all that kept the show's reputation alive. (There was no recording of the complete score until a 2-CD set of a semi-professional production, at Dallas's Lyric Stage, was released in 2015.)
That reputation was worth keeping alive, as the Encores! production, directed by Michael Berresse, firmly demonstrated. Many reviewers referred to The Golden Apple as a "cult" musical, but that isn't precisely its category. Musicals that just miss becoming successes can develop a cult following, as can musicals with outré, limited-appeal themes, or those so openly disastrous that they attract the kind of theatergoers eager to witness a train wreck.
The Golden Apple, bursting with imagination and streaked with brilliance, is quite a different matter. It sets its face daringly, almost defiantly, against all conventional ideas of musical-theater success and toys outrageously with the form's usual expectations. It breeds lasting love and awestruck admiration, particularly among practitioners: If you want to learn what can be achieved in the musical theater, you need to know The Golden Apple. But you also need to know that it will never be a success. Like the novelist hero of Henry James's short story "The Next Time," who keeps turning out masterpieces but can never create a bestseller, The Golden Apple embodies the ineffable something that a failure is but that a success somehow isn't.
The show's outrageousness starts with its mocking approach to a story of widespread, long-lasting appeal: Into the folksy framework of an early-1900s rural America, Latouche inserted narrative fragments of the Iliad and the Odyssey. The boys of Angel's Roost, an imaginary small town in Washington State (conveniently located near its Mount Olympus), get home from the Spanish-American War just in time to watch the town's sexually adventurous Helen (Lindsay Mendez), lately married to rich old Menelaus (Jeff Blumenkrantz), run off to the big city in a balloon with a traveling salesman, "Mr. Paris, of Paris Notions, Inc." (Barton Cowperthwaite). Naturally, the local bigwigs talk the boys into rescuing her and avenging the honor of Angel's Roost. So, in Act Two, led reluctantly by clever Ulysses (Ryan Silverman), they march off to the bustling city of Rhododendron, where, once they've recaptured Helen and sent her packing, shifty Mayor Hector (Jason Kravitz) persuades them to stick around and see the sights — a set of traps that will pick them off one by one, until only Ulysses gets to return alive, to his careworn but patient Penelope (Mikaela Bennett).
This summary points to one of the show's principal flaws: It robs the Homeric epic of power by reducing the Trojan War to a hicks-versus–city slickers squabble, framed ominously between two real wars: the Spanish-American conflict just behind and World War I, the first modern industrial war, looming ahead. Also, by devoting so much of its first act to the backstory of Paris and Helen, it never fully focuses on its main action, the struggle of Ulysses and Penelope to stay together through America's shift from a semi-rural isolated nation to an urbanized world power. That story, though not well-articulated in plot terms, is The Golden Apple's mainspring and the source of its imaginative strength.
Act One is a set of interlocking farm-town tableaux — the three goddesses' competition for the title object becomes a cake-baking contest among the local matriarchs — set by Moross to lushly pastoral melodies that build to a brilliant ensemble finale. Act Two, in contrast, is scored and conceived as a raucous, surreal vaudeville show, with Mayor Hector's sinister soft-shoe number setting the cynical tone: Scylla and Charybdis as a Gallagher-and-Shean team of commodities brokers, the Sirens as B-girls in a waterfront dive, and so on. Unlike his wavering sense of dramatic focus, Latouche's verbal invention is unfailing, while Moross's neat gift for making love to the old forms while simultaneously poking fun at them is there to answer it at every turn.
The issue of tone that that description raises is one of The Golden Apple's major discomfiting qualities. Though it's sung throughout, like a "serious" opera, the show's satiric attitude, freewheeling structure, and nearly cartooned characters give it an old-style musical-comedy quality. It seems to belong to the era of Funny Face and Fifty Million Frenchmen rather than that of The King and I and The Most Happy Fella. At the same time, the evident seriousness of purpose behind Latouche's mordant wit ("Old men always do the shouting/Young men have to do the shooting"), and the romantic intensity of Moross's music for Penelope and Ulysses, tend to rebuke the comedy rather than simply offering a respite from it. The Golden Apple will always remain an amazing phenomenon partly because it can never wholly decide what it wants to be.
This tonal indecision seeped into Berresse's production, despite a substantial amount of fine work. Rob Berman, conducting, tended to hurry the more reflective numbers, while Bennett forced her rich-toned voice as if she thought she were singing Les Troyens. The lack of lightness — except for Mendez, the female principals tended to oversing — was made worse by the notoriously ungainly sound system at Encores!, which made lyrics hard to catch. Some costumes, like those for the Sirens, were odd misfires (William Ivey Long was listed only as "Costume Consultant," not designer), and Joshua Bergasse's choreography sometimes seemed cluttered where it needed to be simplest.
Still, Berresse's staging solved a multitude of problems, given the limited stage space and the short rehearsal period. Large sections of this difficult piece came off effectively. Silverman sang and acted with clarity, as well as power and grace. And the evening's high point — Helen's seduction of Paris, with Cowperthwaite leaping about languidly to Mendez's soulful rendition of the show's most famous song, "Lazy Afternoon" — was pure musical-theater heaven. And heaven is not a state the musical theater attains easily, even when trifling near Mount Olympus.