Sound Advice Reviews
The Golden Apple
The missing slices from the juicy score to 1954's The Golden Apple are on disc at last. So there is reason to rejoice for lovers of adventurous musical theatre scores, especially the completists who scoff at the very idea of anyone considering the purchase of a one-disc "Highlights from..." culled from a multi-disc cast album. Of course, a far greater sin comes when record companies will only consider releasing from a long score what fits on a single disc, truncating or just disposing of numbers. In ancient times, when the first cast albums appeared as sets of single 78 rpm shellacs, we were deprived of such items as Jud's haunting "Lonely Room" in Oklahoma!, and when the twelve-inch "long playing" (LP) record came along, things were still left out. In that Mesozoic Era, with a single LP having significantly less playing time than a single compact disc has, there'd be the rare gift of a three-record boxed set for The Most Happy Fella making us most happy, and a two-disc release of She Loves Me was rich. Shows with fuller scores, especially those that weren't smash hits, were hard hit. (Those holding fond memories of the original production of Follies are still in mourning.) The original cast record for The Golden Apple had less than half the show's music preserved, appealing though the Reader's Digest excerpts may have been. A third of a loaf was better than none. Some numbers, like "The Heroes Come Home," had whole chunks removed and many weren't on the album at all. Several brief tracks of rhymed narration spoken by a member of the fine cast were inserted, providing a limp attempt at continuity.
Recorded live over a few performances at Carpenter Hall in Irving, Texas, last fall, the Lyric Stage production on disc reveals the full glory of the sung-through piece that has elements of both musical comedy and opera, is often satirical and occasionally touching, and incorporates many, many styles of music. As songs often segue from one to another (though separately tracked), there are not all that many applause breaks, making for a less interrupted listening experience that is dizzying in an impressive and pleasurable way. Like a musical fashion parade, sounds and styles and attitudes seem to stop on a dime and be replaced in a wink by a new and fresh personality.
The PS Classics label, which once put out a memorable studio cast compilation album of variously sourced work of the show's composer, Jerome Moross, Windflowers (named for this score's exquisite ballads), is to be embraced for finally preserving all of this property. The consistently inventive and well-crafted lyrics of John Latouche are a marvel, making one again sad and frustrated that he died just a couple of years after, before the debut of the show he was then working onCandide, whose wit and freewheeling structure and hybridism this show somewhat resembles.
Conductor Jay Dias leads the 36-strong member orchestra using the orchestrations created by the composer with Hershy Kay (who worked on A Chorus Line, Barnum and the original productions of two shows currently revived on Broadway: On the Town and On the Twentieth Century). The orchestra is simply a delight, with lots of personality and the crucial bouncy and sly humor and effervescent energy. It's the kind of album where you want to press "Replay" on tracks just to concentrate on those spiffy, personality-filled orchestrations that bubble and punctuate the jokey lyrics or sweeten the rarer tender moments.
Using elements of Homer's stories of The Iliad and The Odyssey, keeping some names but re-setting the action in the U.S. state of Washington at the beginning of the 20th century, parodies' potentials can be chosen from both the worlds of Greek myths and American tapestry. (Human foolishness knows no era; throw in the equivalents of some tempestuous gods for good measure.) As such, the reconstituted plot of a small town's population fussing and feuding are not to be taken seriously, nor are the broad characters. This is entertainment. And this stalwart Texas company is thus best when serving ham or emphasizing the buffoonery. The mockery of male egos waging war and philandering, the human obsessions with sexual attraction and attractiveness hit the marks for comic effect. What fools these mortals be.
Little things becoming bigger deals in small towns are nicely emphasized in act one when a baking contest brings out the competitive side and some spite. (Well, there is that prize of the golden apple proffered by the local soothsayer, bristling from not being invited to the town shindig). And, depending on whether the local color seems bright or dull, there's much to sing about. That starts with the comical complaints of Danielle Estes as restless Helen (as in "of Troy") whining that "Nothing Ever Happens in Angel's Roost" being spot on. Though married and soon to be taken away by the dashing Paris (a dancing-only role), she's still coveted by the men who recall that "Helen Is Always Willing." This female character also gets the one song that is far and away the best known from the score, recorded by many over the years: "Lazy Afternoon." It gets a good dose of its seductive come-on in the treatment here, not veering mainly in the ultra-languid and mysterious feel it's often drenched in.
Christopher J. Deaton as Ulysses is a strong singer, hitting the notes as well as the characterization hues as heroic, sincere, or high on his own puffed-up up macho ego. As his long-suffering wife Penelope, Kristen Lassiter has a more operatic sound than most and it serves much of the material well, but the couple's ballad "It's the Going Home Together" could have benefited from more genuine emotion and sentiment. The full potential of tenderness in the lyric is not realized as phrased. James Williams, as the slick Hector in act two (when the men go off on an adventure in the "big city"), is terrific in his razzle-dazzle and vaudeville-style numbers.
There's just so much musical comedy heaven here, as a listener's head spins from genre to genre, pastiche to parody. As we zip though the 48 tracks of varying lengths, there are celebrational dance numbers, arguments, marches, and lots of loopiness that doesn't sacrifice musical inventiveness. There are nods to music hall, operetta, and calypso. "Goona-Goona," mocking the craze for Hawaiian or pseudo-Hawaiian music, is a hoot, swamped in its tongue-twisting, vowel-heavy verbiage. Struts like Ulysses and the guys' joy in wearing a "Store-Bought Suit" are great energy-boosters and the company number "Busy Little Sewing Bee" is even more infectious fun. Likewise, due to the contrast of tone and subject, the company number proclaimed thataccording to scientific evidencethe human race is clearly "Doomed, Doomed, Doomed" as performed here is a roaring success with glee.
Some favorite examples of lyric polish and punchand note some nifty inner rhymes:
from that grievance that "Nothing Ever Happens in Angel's Roost": "It has a pretty view/ But there're just three things to do:/ You're born and then you live and then you die."
from "Mother Hare's Séance" (addressed to the lady predicting the future via crystal ball): "You fake! You fake!/ You eerie, dreary fake!/ Today you said was full of dread/ But you made a mistake... Make my spells of gloom stick/ Go home and ride your broomstick."
from "A Good Girl": "Well tell the folks I'm back again/ From that horrid torrid town/ My trolley's on the track again/ I'm settling down... If you're too proper with poppa/ You're sure to come a cropper."
from "Hurry! Hurry!": "The wonder of the 20th century/ Here's money, power, booze and wenchery."
from "A Carefree Diversion: "Does the way that things are going upset you?/ Does the rattle of the city seem to get you/ Are your nerves a trifle edgy?/ Has your brain begun to vegetate?/ Is your love life in a hassle?? Has your mind begun to vacillate?"
All these lyrics (chosen, by the way, from material that hadn't made the old cast album) are included in the booklet, which also has a synopsis, photos, credits, history and background, and an appreciation by the composer's daughter, Susanna Moross Tarjan. What a sumptuous feast!!