Back to Metroland's Home Page!
 Columns & Opinions
   The Simple Life
   Looking Up
   Myth America
   Rapp On This
 News & Features
   What a Week
   Loose Ends
   This Week's Review
   The Dining Guide
 Cinema & Video
   Weekly Reviews
   The Movie Schedule
   Listen Here
   Art Murmur
   Night & Day
   Event Listings
   View Classified Ads
   Place a Classified Ad
   Online Personals
   Place A Print Ad
 About Metroland
   Where We Are
   Who We Are
   What We Do
   Work For Us
   Place An Ad

Under Ripe
By B.A. Nilsson

The Golden Apple

By Jerome Moross and John Latouche, directed by Sarah Stern, conducted by Jonathan Tunick

Bard College, Aug. 28

As with Ulysses himself, fate dealt an unexpected blow to The Golden Apple when the hugely successful 1954 off-Broadway show moved to Broadway: It lasted for 125 performances, far fewer than its original notices seemed to promise. And it entered theatrical history as one of those question-mark musicals: a show that, in retrospect, may have been too good for its own good, offending the gods of ticket sales with its artistic hubris.

Certainly nothing like it had been seen in that context before. It’s through- composed, like an opera, but the songs themselves pay tribute to musical-theater traditions, from vaudeville to heartrending ballad. The book transplants stories from The Iliad and The Odyssey to rural Washington state in the early 1900s, with Ulysses and his men just back from the Spanish-American War and all the men vying for the attention of Helen, the village flirt.

Book and lyrics were by John Latouche, a virtuoso wordsmith who’d previously worked with Vernon Duke and Duke Ellington when he teamed with composer Jerome Moross. By 1954, Moross had written a symphony and several ballets (including the notorious Frankie and Johnny) and was beginning to write music for movies; his best-known movie score would be The Big Country (1958).

Moross was one of the first classically trained composers to successfully synthesize elements of jazz in his works. He also had a keen ear for American vernacular music, and The Golden Apple, like so many other of his scores, often has an easygoing, folksong feel. In his talent and versatility, he foreshadowed Leonard Bernstein by many years—I would argue that without Moross, there would have been no Bernstein—but Moross lacked the high-visibility platform Bernstein acquired. Which is why it’s a delight to hear a work like The Golden Apple in its entirety, with a talented orchestra to bring it to life.

Last Sunday’s concert presentation at Bard College put alumnus Jonathan Tunick on the podium with members of the American Symphony Orchestra, and they brought the music to life in all its rhythmic complexity. Unfortunately, it was at the expense of the words. A cast of Broadway notables lined the front of the stage at the Sosnoff Theater, but you could barely hear a one of them.

Some fared better than others: “Lazy Afternoon” has achieved a life of its own thanks to recordings by Tony Bennett and Barbra Streisand, and the quiet, Satie-like accompaniment allowed one of the few opportunities to hear Kate Baldwin (as Helen). Crista Moore, as Penelope, Ulysses’ long-suffering wife, also had a splendid moment with another affecting song, “Windflowers,” but was forced to compete with a more overwhelming backup.

I have long complained about the overuse of (and now reliance upon) amplification in the theater; here I found myself longing for microphones. But the concert should have worked without them. I fear there’s an emperor’s-new-clothes aspect to Yasuhisa Toyota’s much-vaunted acoustic design. Although he scored a great success with the Los Angeles Walt Disney Concert Hall, in the Sosnoff Theater the sound of a traditionally arrayed orchestra is brass heavy and lacks transparency.

The production was further hobbled by the stage setup, which placed the singers, both soloists and chorus downstage of the conductor, giving no chance of interaction. Which mightn’t have mattered: Although several TV monitors were within view of the singers, Tunick gave them no discernible cues. They must have rehearsed at least once—was nobody around to listen?

And the cues were needed, because the singers were underrehearsed. It was an eager ensemble, and the chorus had a strong, orchestra-topping sound, but entrances were ragged. Two chorus members provided stage directions, which weren’t coordinated with and were often drowned out by the orchestra.

The soloists showed varying degrees of familiarity with the material. Not surprisingly for a complicated one-off like this, everybody was on book, but some had their heads buried deeper than others. Warranting praise among the soloists were Daniel Marcus as Menelaus, who was unfailingly funny; Evalyn Baron as the intimidating Mother Hare; Howard McGillin as Ulysses; and his sextet of heroes, David Staller, Victor Dixon, Graham Rowat, Drew McVety, Sinclair Mitchell and Ken Jennings.

Switching mythology for a moment, this show is a holy grail among Broadway enthusiasts; although it should at least have become an opera house stalwart by now, productions are scarce, making this an all-the-more exciting opportunity. How sad, then, to have this Golden Apple dangled so tantalizingly in front of us but cruelly whisked away.

King Me: Annette Miller and Allyn Burrows in King John.

The Time Is Out of Joint

King John

By William Shakespeare, directed by Tina Packer

Shakespeare & Company, Founders Theatre, through Sept. 3

In her last scene, Constance (Barbara Sims) materializes from the shadows upstage. Her torn and tattered black long medieval dress and black robe swirl around her, her fine, shoulder-length blonde hair floats around her face, alternately hiding it and haloing it as she moves in grief. Her preteen son Arthur (Susannah Millonzi), rightful King of England, has been captured by his usurping uncle King John (Allyn Burrows), and Constance berates her failed protectors, King Philip of France (William Walton), the Dauphin (Mark Saturno), and Cardinal Pandulph (Mel Cobb). Her eyes are closed, her fingers spread wide, palms up in supplication to end her grief. She then clenches them, nails pressed into her palms as she pounds her acceptance of loss into her bosom. The men stand mute, eyes askance, forming a wide triangle, not daring to draw near until she stumbles blindly from the stage exiting through the audience. Neither she nor the king are seen again.

In King John’s first scene, he sits in his red-and-gold satin doublet and red leather boots on his gold thrown, his crown slightly crooked, looking too stupid to rule; then a fatuous smirk plays across his face as his eyes go wide at the questions from quarreling brothers, the bastard Philip (Peter Macon) and the legitimate Robert (Steve Boss). Manipulating them both, the strong- limbed Philip switches sides at King John’s slightest suggestion, becoming his most loyal and most puissant “noble” warrior.

In the middle of the play, the English wear red, the French blue; and the besieged town of Angiers is caught in the middle. King John makes his entreaties for Angiers’ capitulation to him as the rightful king of England; King Philip then makes his entreaties for Angiers’ capitulation to his ward, Arthur, as the rightful king of England. When the town refuses to choose, the Bastard suggests the English and French armies unite, destroy the town, then fight to see whether King John or Arthur rules the rubble. The kings agree to war, but the citizens of Angiers suggest a marriage between the Dauphin and Lady Blanche (Ashley Bryant). The kings agree to peace, yet the armies end up fighting despite the compromise of the citizens when Cardinal Pandulph excommunicates King John for not adhering to the pope’s authority closely enough. The stage is soon full of the English in red, Cardinal Pandulph’s nuns and monks in impossibly white cowls and robes, and the French in blue, the colors swirling together in the miasma of battle. The Bastard delivers a soliloquy on base “commodity” being the root of all warfare, and is greeted with mirthless laughs of recognition in the audience.

In the beginning of the end, King John berates Hubert (Kenajuan Bentley) for killing his nephew Arthur, giving full reign to his newfound moral indignation over the treatment of a prisoner the king had hinted should be killed to protect the country. King John blames Hubert for following orders, but severs the chain of command so the buck stops elsewhere. The audience laughs ruefully.

In the scene before Arthur is abused in jail, King John bemoans “O, where hath our intelligence been drunk? Where hath it slept?” in response to hearing news that things are not what the king had believed in France. The audiences laugh ruefully again.

Set in 1200, written in 1590, King John is a seldom-produced Shakespeare history play that challenges actors, directors and audiences to make their own relevant connections between three eras. More a series of scenes that charge the stage like lightning connecting earth to sky, King John offers no easy through line, no simple connections, no pat answers nor sound bite sum mations. Yet so deft is Tina Packer’s direction and so sure is the cast’s acting, the audience are trusted to make their own connections. It’s a rare theater company that trusts its audience so; and it’s a rare production that can capture the nuances of an obscure 415-year-old political play based on events set nearly four centuries earlier yet make them seem so modern.

—James Yeara

Send A Letter to Our Editor
Back Home
Banner 10000136
Copyright © 2002 Lou Communications, Inc., 419 Madison Ave., Albany, NY 12210. All rights reserved.