The Golden Apple first full-length recording
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Two CD set. Featuring nearly 90 minutes of previously unrecorded music and the complete libretto, PS Classics' deluxe cast recording of The Golden Apple gives new life to a musical milestone of the American theatre. When it premiered in 1954, composer Jerome Moross and librettist John Latouche's The Golden Apple was hailed as "the most original musical since Oklahoma!" (The Washington Post), "the best thing that has happened in and to the theatre in a very long time" (New York Daily News), and "a magnificent achievement. A sensational success. The most imaginative work of it's kind" (New York Daily Mirror). It's blend of American folklore and Greek myth, popular entertainment and high art, and musical comedy and operatic drama "stood Manhattan on it's ear," winning the New York Drama Critics' Circle prize for Best Musical (the first Off-Broadway show to do so) and spawning the standard "Lazy Afternoon." Yet, sadly, this 135-minute through-sung musical was preserved only in a 48-minute LP, and after a short-lived transfer to Broadway, THE GOLDEN APPLE all but slipped into obscurity. In November of 2014, the Lyric Stage of Irving, Texas, mounted a fully-staged revival of The Golden Apple, featuring an orchestra of 38 and a 43-member cast, and PS Classics was there to preserve the score in it's entirety.
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The musical transposes elements of the Odyssey and Illiad (along with Ovid's take on the Judgment of Paris) to turn of the 20th Century Washington State. The score is bifurcated between the acts. Act 1 is mostly a small town idyll, full of Americana ballads. Act 2 moves to the big city of Rhododendron, and is mostly a set of vaudeville skits in the various styles of popular music of the day - cakewalks, waltzes, vaudeville patter, blues, Hawaiian, etc... Although the 1954 album gave us a good introduction to this landmark score, this one does it full justice. Thank you PS Classics for bringing us this gift.
On the whole, it is delectable. And it is never boring, even though it is continuous music, without dialogue. And the highlights are truly that. Certainly all of Penelope's music is touching, lovely, wistful, sad. And the endless variety of song styles from the period give both composer and lyricist ample opportunities to show their skill. As I said, Act Two is particularly strong and varied. Penelope's "Windflowers" is as wonderful as "Lazy Afternoon". The Hawaiian number lasts just long enough. But the satiric ways that the men of Olympus are destroyed by the revenge of the people of Rhododendron aren't all funny. The strong music makes them seem like they should be, but suicide, forced slavery, and murder don't make for a bunch of laughs. (Though the rocket into space is a delight.)
Considering everything, it's a gift to lovers of musicals. It just isn't perfect. But then, how few are.
The performances are skilled, characterful, well-sung, and often funny. Danielle Estes, the Helen, is winning but a bit too giggly girlish for my taste. She's the farmer's daughter, but "Lazy Afternoon" shows just how skillful she is at manipulation. Why else are all those men trying to win her? She certainly sings well. And she's making strong character choices, not just singing the notes. I just don't always agree with them. Christopher J. Deaton as Ulysses seems a bit too callow for a man coming back from war who lives for adventure. Again, he sings well and is making character choices. He plays the final scene admirably. Others may like him even more than I do. I have no complaints about the rest of the cast. Kristen Lassiter is a marvelous Penelope, who makes every emotion palpable. She's the heart of the show and gives perhaps the best performance. I'm sorry to say, the men's chorus is often dreadful. Their pitches are sometimes so approximate, the chords become atonal. (I can assure you that Moross was NOT channeling Schoenberg at any time in this piece.) The orchestra is marvelous. The conductor, Jay Dias, has the piece easily in hand. He makes wise choices throughout, helping even the less-than-inspired parts sparkle. The sound does the whole enterprise proud, though it is a live recording with applause at the end of numbers. I find it a tiny price to pay.
Even with my few caveats, this is an essential purchase for anyone who is interested in the history and development of the American Musical. The work is an important one, thoroughly enjoyable for most of its two hours.Compared to much of what is written today, I'll say it was sent from the gods.
In fact, you'll be applauding too. This is The Great American Musical — except that it somehow got lost and forgotten. It is also The Great American Opera; both acts are continuous music, without pause or spoken dialog. The music and brilliant lyric writing are unforgettable, the premise and structure of the show (based on the Iliad and Odyssey) are ingenious. To have it available on recording at long last is simply wonderful.