Finding True Home with Lyric Stage’s “The Golden Apple”

Ulysses and Penelope (Christopher J. Deaton and Kristen Lassiter)

Ulysses and Penelope (Christopher J. Deaton and Kristen Lassiter)

Imagine this : An American Puccini wins a Guggenheim grant and writes an epic American musical score based on Western civilization’s most catalytic Greek myth with a wunderkind “Jules Verne” lyricist in the early 1950’s…. and you have The Golden Apple: exhilarating, stately, saucy, poignant, immersive, seductive, demanding amazing depth, scope and stamina from its artists and orchestra. It’s a soaring cornucopia evocation of a world no other American musical imagines. 43 fine singers fill the stage with color and bustle, and 36 professional musicians play its full score (first time since its 1954 Broadway run). Don’t miss the chance to experience this unique performance, running through November 2 at LYRIC STAGE in Irving. It sure no formulaic book-model Rodgers & Hammerstein-style musical, in any respect…

My parents, post-WWII transplants from lives and universities in New York City and DC, immersed themselves in the early 1950’s theatre scene in Dallas. When I, their daughter, arrived, they wasted no time in exposing me to the family passion.

Poster for 1954 Broadway production

Poster for 1954 Broadway production

By age six I knew the lyrics to every song on the forty plus Broadway show LP’s that emerged carefully from dust jackets to spin at 33 1/3 RPM on my father’s state-of-the-art stereo system, sang along with them, too. One of the shows they introduced to me, The Golden Apple, by Jerome Moross and John Latouche, seemed to hold breathless significance for my parents, gave them special joy in listening. I have never forgotten the show over the years, looked in vain for a production, a concert performance, as my life took me to the West Coast and back. Imagine my delight when I heard Lyric Stage included it in this season’s productions, presenting it with its comprehensive score fully orchestrated.

The Golden Apple, as performed by Lyric Stage, offers one of the most complicated, unique, entertaining and satisfying American musical theatre performances I’ve experienced in a long time. Sung straight through, no dialogue, no recitative, one intermission, its thirty-three musical numbers present a phenomenal challenge to cast, stage director, musical director and orchestra. Easy to see why it’s only been attempted so few times since 1954. Lyric Stage’s production, directed by Stefan Novinski, choreographed by John de los Santos and conducted/ musically directed by Lyric Stage’s resident musical director Jay Dias, rises elegantly to the challenge. The show’s convoluted, “in joke” laden story line, borrowing elements of Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, but moving the action to post Spanish-American War era rural Washington State, can confuse even the most attentive, classically educated audience member. Here’s my suggestion: let it go. Sit back and enjoy the sweeping romance, gentle humor, clever parody of Rodgers & Hammerstein “book” musicals, and the non-stop vaudevillian routines that pop out of pie contests, balloons, faux space ships and crystal balls like 1950’s stovetop Jiffy popcorn. It’s  meant to be funny. The Golden Apple’s exquisite music swells throughout Carpenter Hall as composer Jerome Moross must surely have dreamed it might, under Jay Dias’ inspired guidance. Cast singers, leads to chorus, all embrace the composer’s intentionally folksy “Americana” tone while employing their best-supported classical musical theatre vocal technique. No disappointments. Christopher J. Deaton gives his strongest performance I’ve seen yet as the straight-laced but always very human male lead Ulysses, respectfully attentive to his wife Penelope yet eager for adventure in shady Rhododendron. The richness of his voice, masculine yet full of loving warmth, wins the audience as easily as it keeps Penelope enthralled. Kristen Lassiter’s pure soprano soars up to the skies above Angel’s Roost as she reveals a Penelope with genuine longing and self-respect as much as dedication to her man off a–gander for a long, long decade.

Foreground: Menelaus(Andy baldwin) fights over Helen (Danielle Estes) with Paris (Hayden Clifton)

Foreground: Menelaus (Andy Baldwin) fights over Helen (Danielle Estes) with Paris (Hayden Clifton)

I found myself amazed by the proto-feminist themes running throughout the show. Who knew? Its first four musical numbers that set the tone and present the show’s exposition are all women’s songs. The show’s change and conflict catalyst is an independent bag lady-sorceress called Mother Hare (derived from Eris, goddess of discord) played with verve, wit and sparkle by Deborah Brown. She predicts the future in a crystal ball she totes everywhere in a huge carpetbag. Men don’t discourage her, no not ever. Handsome traveling salesman (ladies’ intimates) Paris drops in to break hearts from a hot air balloon. His role in the show is that of a seducer but with a twist; he is a Fosse-style dancing mute in this Broadway show decisively built around non-stop, expressive music. Hayden Clifton’s hunky physique is a juicy sight to behold; yet he is clearly the object of women’s desire, no assertive predator, he. The high point of Act One is the show’s eighteenth number, “Lazy Afternoon”, sung by secondary female lead Helen (based on Helen of Troy, who started the Trojan war by eloping with Paris). It’s the one song that emerged from the show to become a popular jazz hit and launched Kaye Ballard’s theatre career, as well. Helen, the show’s “bad girl”, has revealed her soubrette charms and predictable ennui in the show’s opening tune “Nothing Ever Happens in Angel’s Roost”. But when statuesque, comely blonde Danielle Estes explodes into full-on assertive, seduction mode as she croons “Lazy Afternoon” to her intended lover Paris (sometimes stretched out fully prone on the floor), one feels intense heat rolling off their exchange, a heat that in no way indicates woman as submissive sex partner. Confident direction by Stefan Novinski and full engagement in the scene by both Estes and Clifton make this the most pleasurably steamy sex scene I’ve witnessed on stage all year.

In Act Two, James William’s soft shoe vaudeville-style turn performing “Hector’s Song” charms the audience in a different vein. Christopher J. Deaton’s soulful delivery of “Ulysses’ Soliloquy” near the end brings the audience back down to Earth from the hyperactive exuberance of earlier scenes to the reflective depth of emotion that floats beneath the show’s frothy madcap excess. After all, it’s love and commitment that keep civilization alive. The original show’s producers made Jerome Moross change his ending to include a big cast finale for Broadway. In the 1970’s Moross put back his ending, with Penelope and Ulysses quietly reuniting, singing the simple duet “We’ve Just Begun”. What a truthful statement for 1950’s America looking towards a bright future. What a gracious testament to hope and love’s power for today. Enjoy The Golden Apple this weekend. You won’t get the chance to experience it served up so well perhaps ever again.

 The Golden Apple runs through November 2, 2014 at Lyric Stage,  in the Irving Arts Center’s Carpenter Performance Hall, 3333 N. MacArthur Blvd, Irving, Texas.

LIMITED RUN SCHEDULE: October 31 and November 1 at 8:00 PM and October 26 and November 2 at 2:30 PM

TICKETS: www.lyricstage.org 972-252-2787

 With scenic design by Donna Marquet; costumes by Jen J. Madison; lighting design by Julie Simmons, sound by Bill Eickenloff.

Thanks, PoppaBob, for sharing your love of this show with me so long ago…..

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8 thoughts on “Finding True Home with Lyric Stage’s “The Golden Apple”

  1. Great piece, thanks! One nit-pick though- Mother Hare is based on Eris, the goddess of discord, not Hera. Mrs Juniper fills that role.

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  2. Pingback: The Golden Apple: Alexandra Bonifield review | Lyric Stage

  3. You of course mean the Spanish-American War, not the Spanish Civil War.

    I really wish I could see this, but I’m far away. Failing that, a nice recording of the full score would be wonderful.

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    • So many of us fans wish they would record this production. Don’t know if it’s been discussed. Thanks for your correction. Some days I wonder where my head is at….

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  4. Pingback: Best of 2014 On Stage: the view from Criticalrant | criticalrant.com Alexandra Bonifield

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