I saw the original production of “The Golden Apple” at the off-Broadway Phoenix Theatre in 1954, but the only specific memory I have of it all these years later is Kaye Ballard singing “Lazy Afternoon” in her languid, sultry, bluesy and sexy style (You can hear her on YouTube.) Now New York City Center Encores! has retrieved this legendary show in a staging (May 10-14, 2017) that reveals why so many people have revered the musical with its glorious score by Jerome Moross and lyrics by John Latouche.
One of the most thrilling aspects of this revival is the rendition of the score by the Encores! Orchestra, under the musical direction of Rob Berman, who is also the conductor. The complex, challenging score is a joy to hear as the 31 musicians combine impressively to demonstrate why Moross’s work endures.
“The Golden Apple” is entirely sung, a distinction in itself, and, under the direction of Michael Berresse, the show is presented here with flowing smoothness, including the spirited choreography by Joshua Bergasse. Excellent singers are required and this presentation has them.
The plot and setting constitute an American riff on the Trojan War, involving the battle to capture the departed Helen, the loose woman of the township Angel’s Roost at the edge of Mt. Olympus. Although wed to the affable but cloddish Menelaus (Jeff Blumenkrantz), she has gone off with Paris, elegantly danced by Barton Cowperthwaite, who arrives in a balloon as a salesman of luxury items. Soldiers have returned from the Spanish-American war, but soon embark on the get-Helen-back mission. This is especially hard on Penelope (Mikaela Bennett), who is in love with Ulysses (Ryan Silverman), for instead of staying home with her, he goes off again, much to her chagrin.
Bennett as Penelope and Silverman as Ulysses sing magnificently, and their climactic final number, “We’ve Just Begun,” after Ulysses returns and rekindles the love between them, is a moving high point.
Lindsay Mendez plays Helen more in an ungainly, flaunting, comical Western gal manner than as the temptress she is apparently meant to be. She has a good voice and sings “Lazy Afternoon” in keeping with her sassy character.
There is a large cast, including Michael X. Martin, who has a showy, entertaining role as the mayor of the seaport Rhododendron, where Ulysses and his men in quest of Helen are tempted by a bevy of seductive women according to the mayor’s plan to defeat the invaders.
The various numbers sung to advance the plot and define character are clever, and although theoretically just a concert version, this feels almost like a full scale mounting. The period costumes (William Ivey Long was costume consultant) add much color, and I was especially impressed by the lighting design by Ken Billington that helps build various moods.
The overall American folksy effect gives the show a down-home quality, even though there occasionally is a vaudevillian-style switch, including two characters engaging in a Gallagher and Shean style vocal repartee.
Once again, typically after only a week of rehearsal, Encores! has made a vital contribution to getting contemporary audiences to appreciate the rich history of musical theater. “The Golden Apple” is exactly the kind of work that bears rediscovery. And Encores! has provided an enjoyable and very accomplished re-visit. At New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street. Reviewed May 14, 2017.