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
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
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.
Me: Annette Miller and Allyn Burrows in King John.
Time Is Out of Joint
William Shakespeare, directed by Tina Packer
Shakespeare & Company, Founders Theatre, through Sept.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.