Review: Encores!’ ‘Golden Apple’ Lacks Luster
By Christopher Caggiano, Contributing Writer, May 18, 2017
Of all the flop shows that musical theater fanatics obsess about, The Golden Apple has to be one of the most legendary. The show was an Off-Broadway sensation in 1954, although upon transferring to Broadway, the show lasted a mere four months. The severely truncated cast recording has kept the show alive, at least in the hearts and minds of the faithful, although actual productions of the show have been scarce.
So, when Encores! at New York City Center announced the The Golden Apple would be part of its 2017 season, there were squeals of giddy delight across the breadths of musical theater-dom. Although the individual productions at Encores! may be hit or miss, the service the organization provides is invaluable, and we can always count on them to give these neglected musicals a proper airing and a first-class presentation.
For the uninitiated, The Golden Apple is a sung-through musical with music by the classically trained Jerome Moross and text by John La Touche. The story is an adaptation of parts of The Iliad and The Odyssey, including the iconic characters Ulysses, Penelope, Helen, and Paris, plus all the colorful, motley assortment of beings they encounter in their travels, including Scylla, Charybdis, and the Sirens. Moross and La Touche updated the epic story to the time of the Spanish-American War, and moved the action to Angel’s Roost, Washington.
Musical theater maven though I may be, I’ve never really been able to warm up to the songs from The Golden Apple. The standout numbers are supposedly “Lazy Afternoon,” “By the Goona-Goona Lagoon,” and “Windflowers,” but only the last of these have ever really held any appeal for me. The others I find rather dull. Perhaps, I thought, the songs would be more effective in the context of the show.
No such luck. Jerome Moross’s music is extremely pleasant to listen to, with a decidedly modernistic flavor, including lots of playful touches in the rhythms and odd but ultimately satisfying intervals in his melodies.
And John La Touche’s lyrics are never less than erudite, peppered with lots of genuinely clever trick rhyme. For example, one song contains the couplet, “Upon that golden shore, kids/We’ll lie on beds of orchids.”
But, somehow, despite the impressive music and clever lyrics, The Golden Apple never quite becomes engaging, let alone transportive. The characters are of the one-adjective, two-dimensional type. The book is plodding, and there’s an artificial quality to many of the songs, particularly the recitative-like passages, the places where in a typical musical there would be dialogue. Under Michael Berresse’s rather leaden direction, the crowd scenes come off like what Stephen Sondheim calls “Peasants on the Green” numbers, full of forced gaiety and awkward extemporizing.
Plus, the show just feels mechanical. The drama never becomes real, nor is there any discernible genuine emotion. There are a number of places—I counted at least three—during which Moross and La Touche felt the need to obsessively introduce every single member of Ulysses’s entourage, or give every local biddy a chance to ply her wares at a baking contest, or, most deadly of all, take us through all Seven of the Deadly Sins during the second act.
One bright spot in the show came during the second act, when Scylla and Charybdis perform a number in the style of those beloved vaudevillians Gallagher and Shean. Otherwise, I was only really engaged when the brassy, ballsy Linsday Mendez was onstage in the role of Helen. The rest of the otherwise talented cast gets dragged down by inert production of an essentially static piece. Ryan Silverman, normally a warm and welcome presence, here is awkward and stilted. Mikaela Bennett as Penelope has a genuinely lovely voice, but her performance is hampered by the cardboard characterization of her character.
But, again, this is why Encores! is such an invaluable institution. These productions give us a chance to experience forgotten shows. Sometimes we get delightful gems, like this season’s The New Yorkers. And other times, we get to see why a legendary flop may have flopped in the first place.
The Golden Apple presented by Encores! at New York City Center, 131 W 55th Street, May 10-14, 2017. Music composed by Jerome Moross; written by John Latouche. Directed by Michael Berresse; choreography by Joshua Bergasse; musical direction by Rob Berman. Cast: Mikaela Bennett, Jeff Blumenkrantz, Ashley Brown, Carrie Compere, Barton Cowperthwaite, Jason Kravits, Alli Mauzey, Lindsay Mendez, N’Kenge, Ryan Silverman, Florrie Bagel, Daniel Berryman, Michael Buchanan, Brian Calì, Max Chernin, Andrew Cristi, Laura Darrell, Dionne Figgins, Hannah Florence, Tamar Greene, Jeff Heimbrock, Leah Horowitz, Monté J. Howell, Donald 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.
Cover: Cast of ‘The Golden Apple;’ photo: Joan Marcus.