Monday, May 23, 2005

Forbidden Fruit

I was sorry that I wasn't able to see Encores! production of Bock and Harnick's The Apple Tree. While Kristen Chenoweth is no Barbara Harris -- something that was all too clear when I saw her in the Encores! production of Harris's other musical, On a Clear Day -- she can do what's needed in the three roles, and the show itself is a delight. It never really took off because it was so whimsical in an era when most hit Broadway shows were either big and splashy or big and serious, but at any rate big. The three one-act musicals of The Apple Tree are all very small-scale in style and in ambition: a bittersweet comedy-romance (the Adam and Eve segment, generally agreed upon on the best) followed by a campy mock-operetta ("The Lady or the Tiger"), and ending with a wispy little Jules Feiffer sendup of celebrity ("Passionella").

Perhaps the show would have been better off in an off-Broadway production, rather than in a Broadway production with the super-slick staging of Mike Nichols, but an off-Broadway production couldn't have offered Harris, Alan Alda, or Eddie Sauter's terrific orchestrations (which are preserved intact at Encores!, as original orchestrations usually are). And I've read that Nichols -- whose work I don't usually care for -- did a great job on this show, wowing the audience with staging tricks like having stage action play backwards as though in "rewind" mode.

Bock and Harnick wrote their own scripts for The Apple Tree, though Jerome Coopersmith is credited with additional dialogue. Whoever wrote Adam's closing speech from the first segment, many people consider it one of the most touching speeches ever written for a musical. I agree:

ADAM: Eve died today. I knew she would, of course. Well, at least her prayer was answered - she went first. Now that she's gone, I realize something I didn't realize before. I used to think it was a terrible tragedy when Eve and I had to leave the Garden. Now I know it really didn't matter. Because, wheresoever she was, there was Eden. And now, I have to go water her flowers. She loved them, you know.

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