“I set out to tell the stories of Ulysses, and Penelope, Paris and Helen as they would have happened in America,” wrote lyricist/librettist John Latouche (1914- 1958). Portions of the Iliad and the Odyssey have been transplanted to the state of Washington, following The Spanish-American War in 1900, and the show’s timespan is 10 years.
This milieu has the homey style of Oklahoma! and The Music Man, but The Golden Apple doesn’t have the compelling plots of those classic shows. Also, it’s more in the style of an opera, being virtually sung-through, rather than a traditional musical with separate songs and dialogue.
Mr. Latouche’s lyrics have wit and craft, but his book is weak. There are a lot of enjoyable set pieces such as a baking contest and a hot-air balloon sequence, but the plot is thinly imparted and the Greek myth inspiration is not easy to follow.
Notable for his Oscar nominated score for the 1958 film, The Big Country, composer Jerome Moross’ music has Aaron Copland grandeur as well as a jaunty Americana tone. It’s dynamically rendered by Dan Moses Schreier’s sound design. The combination of Latouche and Moross’ efforts yielded a collection of likeable songs.
“Lazy Afternoon” is the standout that has become a standard. The quirkily charming Lindsay Mendez makes the most of it and her delightful performance as Helen is a major highlight of the show. Kaye Ballard had quite a success in the part in the original Broadway production.
Handsome musical theater leading man Ryan Silverman is a commanding Ulysses with his operatic singing. Jeff Blumenkrantz is marvelously humorous and pitiful as Menelaus, Helen’s jilted husband. N’Kenge is fierce and bewitching as Mother Hare, a soothsayer-like figure. Ashley Brown is wonderfully comic as the mayor’s wife. Though silent as Paris, the youthful Barton Cowperthwaite’s superior ballet skills make a great impression.
Mikaela Bennett, Carrie Compere, Jason Kravits and Alli Mauzey all make entertaining appearances, as does the highly talented ensemble.
A beautiful painted backdrop of the American heartland inspired by artist Grant Wood is the chief feature of Allen Moyer’s satisfying minimal scenic design. This is displayed during the rousing opening that has music director Rob Berman leading the Encores! Orchestra as they magnificently play the first number as the cast assembles.
Director Michael Berresse’s staging is lively and inventive. Joshua Bergasse’s choreography is very Agnes de Mille with original flourishes. William Ivey Long’s costume design is an arresting array of homespun, period creations. Ken Billington’s lighting design has a steady, bright tone.
Opening Off-Broadway to great acclaim in March 1954, The Golden Apple very soon transferred to Broadway, the next month. Though it was the first Off-Broadway musical to win the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Musical, it ran for a disappointing 125 performances. It hasn’t been seen much since.
The Golden Apple is one of those fabled “lost” musicals that a cult has developed around. This spirited and mildly entertaining incarnation is an exciting event for musical theater aficionados, but is ultimately an uneven experience.
The Golden Apple (May 10 – 14, 2017)
New York City Center Encores!
New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-581-1212 or visit http://www.nycitycenter.org
Running time: two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission