Regional Reviews: San Francisco
A Vivacious and Ingenious Production of
The Golden Apple opened Off-Broadway at the Phoenix Theatre on March 11, 1954 to great critical acclaim. I saw the production after it moved the following month to the Alvin Theatre. The cast included Kaye Ballard, Stephen Douglass, Priscilla Gillette and Bibi Osterwald. This was the first musical production to make a commercial transfer from Off-Broadway to mainstream Broadway. Unfortunately, people stayed away in droves because it was a cerebral and arty musical and had no dialogue. Broadway was not ready for this newfangled musical at the time. It was the first Off-Broadway show to win the Best Musical award from the New York Drama Critics Circle and ran only 125 performances.
Since that time it has rarely been produced. This is unfortunate since the music contains popular songs and dances of the turn of the century. There are waltzes, ragtime, blues, soft shoe songs, vaudeville turns and the composer has filtered these melodies with his own markedly original compositional style. John LaTouche supplied some of the cleverest lyrics that you are likely to hear in a Broadway show. They are smart, urbane and very sophisticated. There are intertwining musical comedy production numbers and songs in dizzying abundance in the production. The show did produce one standard number, still sung by cabaret artists today, the lovely "Lazy Afternoon," which was originally sung by Kaye Ballard but became Mabel Mercer's signature song. Also, the semi-standard "Goona-Goona Lagoon" is sometimes heard.
The Golden Apple is a retelling of the Greek classics The Iliad and The Odyssey and takes place in the little town of Angel's Roost, at the foot of Washington state's Mt. Olympus in early 20th century America. Ulysses (Josh Powell) and his men, returning veterans of the Spanish-American War, come marching down the aisle of the theatre singing the rousing "It Was a Glad Adventure" and something that could be straight out of a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical called "Come Along Boys." Waiting on stage are the women of the town who have just sung the soft melodic "Nothing Ever Happens in Angel's Roost." However, that is soon to change once the men folk are back from the war. Penelope (Caroline Altman) has been patiently waiting for her husband Ulysses to return and she sings the heart warming "My Love Is On the Way." Mother Hare (Carly Ozard), the local mystic, has foretold all will not be well after the men return home. Helen (Alexandra Kaprielian), a typical farmer's daughter of easy virtue, is already married to an older bookish-type sheriff named Menelaus (Rudy Guerrero). The men who are marching home know that this young girl is not very bright and that "Helen is Always Willing." They are not too happy that she married the old stuffy sheriff.
The Golden Apple's first act includes a competition for the golden woven apple which takes place as a baking contest between the town's three busybodies: Lovey Mars (Darlene Popovic), Mrs. Juniper (Libby Trull) and Miss Minerva Oliver (Stephanie Rhoads). The baker of the best apple pie will get the golden apple. The contest is to be judge by an impartial person who just happens to be the gorgeous hunk Paris (Jerry Van Carlos Gore), a salesman of ladies wear who just blew into town in a hot air balloon. Lovey Mars promises to deliver the beautiful Helen to Paris if she wins the golden apple. Lust and not love occurs between the young people and they fly off in Paris' balloon to his home in the city of Rhododendron.
Ulysses and his men go off in full pursuit to return Helen to her husband. Ulysses finds the braggart and challenges him to a prize fight. Ulysses wins and Helen decides to go back to her husband for comfort. The evil and smarmy mayor of Rhododendron Hector (Kristopher McDowell), who is not happy with this outcome, cons Ulysses and his men into a night of fun in the big city. The "night" turns into ten years and the audience sees some hilarious vaudeville scenes by Madame Calypso (Libby Trull), The Siren (Darlene Popovic), and a brainless scientist (Stephanie Rhoads). The naïve leader loses his men one by one to the conniving of the sycophantic mayor.
The Golden Apple's second act contains wonderful vaudeville and music hall turns, such as a soft shoe dance by Kristopher McDowell (looking a little like Ray Walston in Damn Yankees) singing "Hector's Song," with lyrics like "noble people like you and me" and the wonderful pairing of McDowell and Rudy Guerrero doing a vaudeville routine based on the Gallagher and Sheen team of the 1920s. The "Goona-Goona Lagoon" number is side-splitting, with the ladies all dressed like something out of a South Seas movie. The "Circe" number is beautifully sung by McDowell and Nina Joseph as Circe.
Caroline Altman as Penelope has a full flavored voice in the tender ballads "My Love Is On the Way" and the pensive "Windflowers." Josh Powell as the macho Ulysses has great vocal chops in the cakewalk number "Store-Bought Suit" and the thoughtful, soul searching "Ulysses' Soliloquy." Alexandra Kaprielian has a lovely liquid voice on the classic "Lazy Afternoon" and she does a great vaudeville prance to "My Picture in the Papers." As Paris, Jerry Van Carlos Gore (well known singer who won the "Best Artist of the Culture Arts Festival" for singing at the Sydney Opera House) does not sing or speak one word. However, he displays sexy movements with his muscular body around all of the women in the cast. Darlene Popovic gets her chance to show her comic ability playing The Siren in "Goona-Goona Lagoon". She camps it up as The Siren.
Kristopher McDowell is perfect as the slippery, cynical, very fey Mayor Hector. He has a bell clear voice with emphasis on each of John LaTouche's lyrics. He also has great moves in his song and dance numbers. Rudy Guerrero is excellent as his counterpart in the great music hall number, "Scylla and Charybdis." Stephanie Rhoads is zany as the crazy scientist as she sings "Doomed, Doomed, Doomed." Carly Ozard gives a commanding performance as Mother Hare and has great vocal chops in "Mother Hare's Séance." Nina Joseph shines in her big number, "Circe."
The Golden Apple's male cast of singers, consisting of Douglas B. Giorgis, Russ Lorenson, Greg Lucas, Mike Figueira, Richard Rust and Nick Nakashima, are outstanding with powerful harmonic voices. The choral work is euphonic and rousing. David Dobrusky gives the piano a great workout with his very talented playing. Greg MacKellan's direction and Jayne Zaban's choreography are excellent. Everything works like clockwork.
The Golden Apple plays at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco though April 9th. For tickets call 415-978-2787 or visit www.42ndstmoon.org.
Their next production is Jerry Herman's Mack and Mabel opening on April 20 and running through May 7th.