These days, there are many reasons to celebrate in the world of cast recordings. Recent Broadway and Off-Broadway shows are being captured for contemporary and future generations of listeners to enjoy and discuss. Many cast recordings capture a show perfectly, exquisitely preserving the entirety of the music and lyrics while concurrently painting an auditory picture of the musical, its characters and its spirit. Other cast recordings are, for reasons of time, money and technology, given short-shrift. That is why new recordings are breathing life into shows whose original cast recordings didn't quite get the job done. Allegro and Pipe Dream are examples of shows that sound very different and far more intoxicating than their original recordings, becoming fresh and accessible for modern audiences with a cleaner, less-operatic sound. This also goes for the lively and lovely new recording of The Golden Apple which features a score that bursts with energy like it never did before, courtesy of PS Classics.
The Golden Apple, which opened on Broadway in 1954, is a musical that is loosely based on Homer's epic poems "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey." Instead of setting the action in Ancient Greece and its surrounding locales, John Latouche (book and lyrics) and Jerome Moross (music) transplant the tale to Washington State at the turn of the twentieth century. The story follows the adventures of Ulysses, a soldier returning home to his wife Penelope and his hometown, the tiny hamlet Angels' Roost, at the end of the Spanish-American War. When he gets there, he finds out that one of the local denizens, the carefree wanderer Helen has left town with a traveling salesman. Ulysses, who has his own case of wanderlust, starts a ten-year journey to find her and then return her home. Along the way, he encounters many magical and mystical adventures.
The Lyric Stage of Irving, TX, decided to revive The Golden Apple in a fully realized production in November 2014. The piece was directed by Stefan Novinski and choreographed by John de los Santos, and it was decided to produce the piece with its original orchestrations and to retain the original libretto. After excellent reviews, PS Classics got on board to record the production, and the label's co-founder Tommy Krasker finally realized his two-decade long goal of producing a full-length recording of The Golden Apple. (Krasker and composer Jerome Moross' daughter Sussana Moross Tarjan served as executive producers on the album.)
In its initial run, The Golden Apple received positive to rave reviews from critics, but only managed a short run of 125 performances. RCA Victor recorded the original production, but due to the plethora of musical numbers in the piece, the score had to be abridged to fit on one LP record. The result was a serviceable (though lovely) recording, and its chief merit is that it managed to document some of the score until a label like PS Classics could come along and lovingly give us the complete one. The original cast recording of The Golden Apple contained approximately 48 minutes of music, some of which were mere snippets of songs. The full-length cast recording includes 135 minutes of music, which is 87 minutes of previously unrecorded music for listeners to enjoy. This all adds up to a two-disc set that boasts 48 tracks and a booklet that includes plenty of interesting facts, tidbits, and extras such as the entire libretto of the musical and delightful pictures of the Lyric Stage production. It also features the entire 43-member cast of the Lyric Stage's production, as well as a 38-piece orchestra. This, alone, is such a rarity. How often are we treated to a cast recording that is layered with such complexity and fullness of sound from the orchestra while a legion of voices come together to create sparkling and heavenly harmonies? This makes the new recording of The Golden Apple a breathtaking bijou among the most celebrated gems of cast recordings.
For those who have never had the pleasure of encountering the music from The Golden Apple, you are in for a treat. John Latouche and Jerome Moross have concocted something truly splendid, and perhaps ahead of its time for 1954. The lyrics are as witty as anything Lorenz Hart ever penned, and the music is on a par with the very best of Leonard Bernstein's compositions. In fact, there are many themes and sounds in The Golden Apple that happily remind you of Bernstein's Candide. There is a pulsing energy that begins with the lively "Overture" and carries to the final notes of "We've Just Begun" at the show's curtain. The musical opens with one of the most revealing opening sequences, something that could be compared to "Tradition" from Fiddler on the Roof or the first ten-minutes of Into the Woods. Commencing with "Nothing Ever Happens in Angel's Roost," and continuing non-stop through "Angels' Roost Has Its Situation," "Mother Hare's Séance," "My Love Is on the Way" and "The Heroes Come Home," the first ten minutes introduces a wide-range of fascinating characters, establishes the town of Angel's Roost as a small place without much going on, foreshadows the story to come and lights the fuse for the epic tale to playout. By the time Ulysses (a charming and full-voiced Christopher J. Deaton) shows up on the scene, the story is in full-swing and the pieces are coming together for our hero to run off and save the day (though it takes him a decade).
The musical is essentially sung-through, but unlike most recitative sequences in opera and operetta, Latouche and Moross keep it sprightly, melodic and always propelling the action forward. The recitative weaves seamlessly in and out this score, sewing together gorgeous song after gorgeous song like stitches in one tightly constructed musical theatre quilt. Latouche and Moross are also very respectful of the source material and its Greek heritage. In a nod to the theatre of Ancient Greece, the chorus of The Golden Apple is often used like a Greek chorus, performing functions of exposition, time transition and commentary. They also find clever ways of including the more mystical characters of Greek storytelling, such as in their invention of the mountain-dwelling soothsayer Mrs. Hare.
The one song that has always stood out from all of the others is the dreamy and slightly sultry "Lazy Afternoon" which was introduced by the incomparable Kaye Ballard as Helen in the original production and that was made famous by Barbra Streisand on her 1975 album of the same name. On this recording, Danielle Estes sings the role of Helen, wrapping her lovely vocal cords around this sleepy but earthy number. Estes is spot-on throughout, always bringing a beguiling, sly humor to her interpretation of the time-transplanted lovely whose face "launched a thousand ships." Deaton's Ulysses is equal parts melancholy and starry-eyed wanderer, and his vocal interpretation firmly embraces the melodic power of his music, especially when he is paired with Kristin Lassiter's Penelope. Another standout in an all-around superb cast is the colorful Deborah Brown as the inconsistent clairvoyant Mrs. Hare.
The Golden Apple full-length recording is also adept at capturing character relationships and development through carefully textured vocal performances. When Helen and the traveling salesman Paris (Hayden Clifton) run off together (via his hot air balloon), we feel the electric excitement and the palpable discontent that would propel her to leave her home and her husband Menelaus (Andy Baldwin) for an adventure outside of her mundane world. Penelope (Lassiter), the ever-suffering wife of the absentee Ulysses, overflows with heartache and regret in her numbers "Windflowers" and "Penelope's Tirade." When she and her husband are reunited for the penultimate "We've Just Begun," the chemistry between these two soars, and we feel every bit of love shared between the couple, despite a decade of separation.
The PS Classic recording of The Golden Apple is the gift that cast recording collectors have been waiting for. It is alive with the magic of music and theatre, it twinkles with melody and humor, and it makes the best case yet for a Broadway revival of this artful musical that is underappreciated, despite a highly regarded score and beloved original cast recording. Perhaps City Center's Encores! series would be the perfect place for this musical to be rediscovered and remounted. One can only hope that PS Classics will continue their important work recording other shows that deserve a second listening. Me and Juliet, Flahooley, Bloomer Girl and Greenwillow would be a nice start to a long wish list. Until then, let us revel in the fact that we finally have a complete, top-notch recording of The Golden Apple giving us a better understanding of this wondrous, oft-overlooked, musical. Mark Robinson is a theatre, television, and film historian who writes the blog "The Music That Makes Me Dance" found at markrobinsonwrites.com. Mark is the author of three books: "The Disney Song Encyclopedia," "The Encyclopedia of Television Theme Songs" and the two-volume "The World of Musicals."