The Golden Apple, a 1954 Broadway musical, got the Encores! treatment at its most glorious over the weekend – with a sonorous 31-piece orchestra directed by Rob Berman, and a splendid 40-member cast including such go-to musical theater talents as Lindsay Mendez and Ryan Silverman, as well as two thrilling newcomers.
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.
The Golden Apple
Music composed by Jerome Moross; Written by John La Touche; Musical direction by Rob Berman; Choreography by Joshua Bergasse; Directed by Michael Berresse
Cast Mikaela Bennett, Ashley Brown, Carrie Compere, Jason Kravits, Alli Mauzey, Lindsay Mendez, N’Kenge, Ryan Silverman, Rasta Thomas, Florrie Bagel, Daniel Berryman, Michael Buchanan, Brian Cali, Max Chernin, Andrew Cristi, Laura Darrell, Dionne Figgins, Hannah Florence, Tamar Greene, Jeff Heimbrock, Leah Horowitz, Monté J. Howell, Jones Jr., Andrea Jones-Sojola , Naomi Kakuk, Evan Kasprzak, Reed Kelly, Bruce Landry, Quentin Oliver Lee, Brandon Leffler, Michael X. Martin, Skye Mattox , Sarah Meahl, Justin Prescott, Lindsay Roberts, Sarrah Strimel, Joseph Torello, Kathy Voytko, and Nicholas Ward
The Golden Apple was on stage at New York City Center May 10-14, 2017.