The Golden Apple
"He called it a divining rod/A simply too divining rod!"
- Book and lyrics by John Latouche
- Music by Jerome Moross
- Directed by Norman Lloyd
- Musical direction by Hugh Ross
- Orchestration by Jerome Moross and Hershey Kay
- Choreography and musical numbers by Hanya Holm
- Opened 3/11/54 off-Broadway at the Phoenix Theatre; moved to Broadway's Alvin Theatre six weeks later; closed sixteen weeks later.
Ulysses (a veteran)
Helen (a farmer's daughter)
Hector (Mayor of Rhododendron)/Mr. Charybdis
Lovey Mars (the local matchmaker)/Siren
Paris (a traveling salesman)
Miss Minerva Oliver (the village schoolmarm)/a crazy lady scientist
Mrs. Juniper (the mayor's wife)/Calypso the Nymph
Mother Hare (the local mystic)/Circe
Menelaus (the old sheriff)/Mr. Scylla
Mayor Juniper Dee Harless The Figurehead
- Frank Seabolt
- Marten Sameth
- Crandell Diehl
- Maurice Edwards
- Don Redlich
- Peter de Mayo
- Barton Mumaw
- Robert Flavelle
- Julian Patrick
- Richard Hermany
- Gary Gordon
- The Heroes
- * = does not appear on recording
- **= does not appear on recording or in plot summary
This musical was based on the Iliad and the Odyssey. The story has been transplanted to the town of Angel's Roost, Washington, at the foot of Mt. Olympus just after the Spanish-American war. Adventure-loving Ulysses and his men return triumphant to their various women, including Ulysses's wife Penelope and Helen, a young woman married to the old Sheriff Menelaus. In honor of the returning soldiers, the townsfolk organize a fair, in which there will be a baking competition. Old Mother Hare, who supplies the women with herbs and prophecies, is left out of the festivities, but she shows up anyway. She has an apple made of gold wire that she will award to the best baker. Three important townswomen, Miss Minerva, Mrs. Juniper, and Lovey Mars, elect the balloon-riding traveling salesman, Paris, to judge the contest, then promptly try to influence his vote. Lovey Mars wins because she promises him Helen. Soon Paris and Helen are wafting away to Rhododendron, the big city, as Mother Hare gleefully waves goodbye. Although Ulysses had promised Penelope that he'd stay home for a change, he immediately gathers his men and goes off to retrieve Helen.
Helen is the toast of Rhododendron for a while, until the Angel's Roost men show up and take over. Ulysses bundles her back off to Menelaus, but he and his men want to see the big city before they return. The Rhododendron mayor Hector sees this as his chance for revenge against the conquerors. Their "late-night bender" lasts 10 years, and his men vanish one by one into the maw of the city and its sinful inhabitants: Calypso (a nymph/social climber), Scylla and Charybdis (greedy stockbrokers), the Sirens (prostitutes), a crazy lady scientist who shoots men into space but can't get them back, and Circe (a magician's lady sidekick). Ulysses's last hero, Achilles, intercepts a knife aimed at him by Paris, leaving the commander the sole survivor. He does some soul-searching and returns to Penelope, who is none too pleased with him after his ten-year absence. However, he convinces her that he is staying for good this time.
Note: There are also 11 tracks of narration that fill in spots where songs were not recorded.
- My Love Is On the Way
- The Heroes Come Home
- It Was a Glad Adventure
- Come Along Boys
- It's the Going Home Together
- Mother Hare's Prophecy
- Helen is Always Willing
- The Judgment of Paris
- Lazy Afternoon
- The Departure for Rhododendron
- My Picture in the Papers
- Hector's Song
- Store-Bought Suit
- Scylla and Charybdis
- Doomed, Doomed, Doomed
- Ulysses' Soliloquy
- The Sewing Bee
- The Tirade
- Finale: Going Home Together
The Golden Apple won no Tonys, and I can't tell if it got any nominations; the Tonys website doesn't list nominees for the year in question.
- Best New Musical, New York Drama Critics Circle
This is it: the legendary King of the Flops, the final entry in Not Since Carrie, the "most celebrated of shows that are not properly canonical" (according to Ethan Mordden in Comin' Up Roses). Golden Apple was perhaps the most longed-for unreleased Broadway CD for many years; as the liner notes (by Erik Haagensen) put it, "Why Whoop-Up and not The Golden Apple?" It's widely considered the best musical ever to flop; it got nothing but raves when it opened off-Broadway; it was the first-ever off-Broadway show to get Best New Musical from the New York Drama Critics Circle; it produced one standard ("Lazy Afternoon") and one semi-standard ("Goona-Goona")--and it died. Why? Too cerebral/arty, some speculated. Audiences were supposedly put off by the classical underpinnings of the show. Maybe they didn't come because the show had no dialogue--it wasn't sung-through or recitative, just sung, and it may have smelled of opera at a time when opera and operetta were out of fashion on Broadway. Maybe it was because there were no superstars among the cast, though there were a lot of sturdy performers. Maybe the stars were out of alignment. Who knows? Ultimately, no one is really sure why it tanked.
Anyway, does it live up to the hype? For the most part, yes. First, the annoying stuff: when the show was recorded, more than half the songs were omitted or truncated in some way. This was in an era when two-record sets were simply not an option for Broadway cast recordings, though the three-disc set of The Most Happy Fella was only a few years in the future. To fill in the gaps, Latouche created rhyming narration, which was made up on the spot in the studio--obviously; the lines are pretty corny--and read by Jack Whiting. So what we have on CD amounts to an incredibly tantalizing sample of what the show offered.
And tantalizing it is. The music really is terrific, sort of an encyclopedia of popular American musical forms: ballads, cakewalks, vaudeville turns, music hall spoofs, soft-shoes, marches, even a Rodgers and Hammerstein pastiche. The lyrics are equally striking. Ethan Mordden considers this perhaps the greatest set of lyrics for any musical, and while I don't entirely agree, they are indeed impressive. Somehow they wed the whole Trojan War/Odyssey concept to middle American values and speech patterns without sounding in the least pretentious, stupid, or patronizing. They're also quite funny! They're full of sly jokes and double-take moments that require the listener pay close attention to catch. Like Merrily We Roll Along, this score rewards careful listening.
The show is endlessly inventive. The long "Odyssey" sequence is done as a series of vaudeville turns, thus predating the similar concept used in Follies by some 17 years. The defeat of Paris takes place in a boxing ring. The competition for the golden apple is a baking contest. Helen is neither pretty nor smart, but the men love her because "she's always willin'."
The only sour note comes at the end of the show. "It's the Going Home Together" is a song about the joys of a relationship and home life. The song is first sung when Ulysses returns from the Spanish-American War and he's trying to commit to staying home. When he next sings it, he's been gone for ten years, Penelope is understandably pissed at him, and the sentiments in the song--about the little things that matter, etc.--just don't seem to be enough to soothe her ruffled feathers, yet this is how the show ends. This finish was foisted on the show by the producers when it moved to Broadway--they wanted "a big finale with full chorus of the hit tune," but Latouche and Moross hated it, and subsequent stagings of the show must end with a "duet of middle-aged hope called 'We've Just Begun.'"
The performances are first-rate and fully live up to the music. Although Douglass (one of the most underrated leading men of the 50s and 60s, IMHO) is perfectly suitable as Ulysses, and Gillette is a sweet and long-suffering Penelope who sings a heartwrenching "Windflowers," the most notable actors are the other townspeople--they get all the fun songs, including the classic vaudeville odyssey. The "goddess" trio of Osterwald, Nelson, and Rae are hysterical, especially Nelson in her alter-ego as the crazy lady scientist; Ballard steals the show with "Lazy Afternoon"; and Whiting is wonderfully sleazy in his various roles. What a shame that we can't view Lucas's silent dancing Paris!
No libretto, but lots of useful material: a full cast list (though it would help if the actors' dual roles were mentioned here), a full song-and-narration list with track times, a long explanation of the show's circumstances, several nice pictures of the principals recording the songs (no show pix, though), and a lengthy plot synopsis. The picture of Gillette, Osterwald, Ballard, and Douglass fake-fighting over the first copy of the cast recording LP is a nice bonus. The splendid Hirschfeld cover of the original has been reproduced on the CD itself.
Despite its truncation, The Golden Apple is absolutely essential for any musical theatre buff, and it should charm even those with a passing interest in show music. How I wish it had been recorded in full and in stereo! Yoo hoo--Encores! This score needs revival!
Jerome Moross: The Music--A well-designed, informative site run by Moross's daughter.
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