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The Apple Tree – 1966

The Apple Tree – 1966

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Synopsis

The musical THE APPLE TREE consists of three unrelated scenarios, held together only by the songs and the major roles being played by the same actors. In the first part, a loose adaptation of Twain’s The Diary Of Adam And Eve, Adam wakes (“Eden Prelude”) to God’s voice, which tells him to name things and stay away from apples. Adam is happy. Adam is single. He rules the world. Then he discovers an animal he can’t identify: it is Eve, and things must change – “Here In Eden”. Her first statement: “Whatever I am, I’m certainly a beautiful one.” From the start, the relationship struggles. Eve gets on Adam’s nerves; Adam makes Eve feel shut out. Even so, she’s attracted to him, making her the first to have these “Feelings”. Not ready for cohabitation, Adam builds a hut for one, but then can’t bear to see her out in the rain. No sooner has he invited her in, however, than Eve begins redecorating. And yet, he too is attracted (“Eve”). One more argument – about cutting the grass – sends Adam off in a sulk and Eveoff to gaze at her reflection in a pond, which she naively believes is another person like her (“Friends”). Soon there’s another face in the reflection, a Snake, who seems to know everything. He confides to her that knowledge is easy enough to come by, just a matter of eating the apples that grow over the hill (“The Apple Tree – Forbidden Fruit”). We know what’s coming. Adam’s perfect world (“Beautiful, Beautiful World”) changes while he’s bathing. Animals are killing one another; his paradise is ended. Outside Eden, the world is a rough, difficult place, where things die and knowledge doesn’t bring happiness. Nonetheless, Adam and Eve draw closer, in large part because they need each other much more. And now there is another creature produced by Eve that needs them both. Adam isn’t at all sure what it is, but he has a notion: “It’s a Fish.” Eve sings it a lullaby (“Go To Sleep, Whatever You Are”). Soon they’ll have another. Time moves quickly: the two sons, Cain and Abel, grow up and quarrel, Cain strikes Abel, and the family breaks up, leaving Adam and Eve alone again. As her life draws to a close, Eve reflects on her feelings for Adam (“What Makes Me Love Him?”). She dies, and as the curtain falls, Adam – who has always been contemptuous of the “useless” flowers that she cherished so much – waters her garden (“Eden Postlude”). “The Lady or the Tiger?”, adapted from the famous short story, opens with a flourish (“The Lady or the Tiger Prelude”) and a balladeer singing about the dangers of jealousy and love (“I’ll Tell You a Truth”), then spinning a tale: A long time ago, in a semi-barbaric kingdom, there lived a King Arik – he and his daughter enter, triumphantly (“Make Way”) – who liked to mete out justice in a novel way. He put prisoners into an arena with two doors, behind one of which waited a beautiful lady, and behind the other a tiger. The prisoner had to choose one; either he was acquitted and married, or torn to pieces. We see a demonstration. Into the middle of this walks Captain Sanjar, who has come to tell his king that they have won a war. Sanjar collapses; the king and his court, ignoring him, go off to celebrate. Only a beautiful slave girl named Nadjira remains to comfort him, at which she is doing quite well until her mistress, Princess Barbara – that’s pronounced Bar-bare-a as in barbarian – returns and orders her away. We now discover that Barbara, the King’s daughter (“her way, way, upness”) is Sanjar’s lover, but class distinctions forbid their marriage. Reunited here, they spin wild schemes for running away. Sanjar wants to go to Gaul (“I have this cousin who served with Julius Caesar….”) – “Forbidden Love (In Gaul) / Apple Tree – reprise” But who would give up being a princess? They have resigned themselves to a life of stolen kisses and are just in the process of stealing a few more, when the king returns and catches them. By law, commoners may not embrace royalty; guilty is guilty, and Arik has not heard of plea-bargaining. Barbara won’t give up her lover, either, it seems: she makes it her business to find out which door is which (the king changes them from time to time, to keep things interesting) so that she can save Sanjar. She summons the Royal Tiger Keeper – who is also the Devilish balladeer – and demands to know; he tells, with suspiciously little reluctance. Barbara echoes the song, for now she knows what Sanjar wants to know (“I’ve Got What You Want”). But there’s a complication: Barbara sees the beautiful Nadjira being led to the arena. She will be behind one of the doors, which means she will be Sanjar’s wife … if Barbara tells him, Now the tiger passes. Barbara is deep in thought (“Tiger, Tiger”). In the arena, everything is ready (“Make Way; Which Door?; The Lady or the Tiger – reprise”). Sanjar is faced with his choice. He can see by Barbara’s expression that she knows which he should pick. He begs for a signal. Slowly, she raises her arm and points – but as in the original story, the authors end it there, leaving us to ponder the outcome. In the third segment, Jules Feiffer’s “Passionella,” God and the Devil are one and the same, or at least have the same source: television. After the “Passionella Prelude,” we meet another Narrator, then a dirty, demoralized young woman named Ella, who earns a meager wage as a chimney sweep in an office building. But chimneys are just her day job: at night, in her lonely room, Ella follows her true vocation, staring at the TV set and dreaming of fame and glamour (“Oh to Be a Movie Star”). As if to prove that in life things can only get worse, one night Ella loses even this humble pleasure: her television screen goes dark. But in the next moment, from the darkness comes a voice: “This is your Friendly Neighborhood Godmother come to bring you the answer to your most cherished dream!” In an instant, Ella is somehow “Gorgeous.” There is, of course, a catch, and a TV-related one. Ella can be gorgeous and ravishing – Passionella – only between the seven o’clock news and the end of the late movie, a span (this was 1966, remember) of about nine hours. The straphangers who see her on the subway that night can’t believe they don’t recognize her (“Who Is She?”). Since she’s underground, they decide, she must be an underground movie star. At the fabled nightclub El Morocco, she again dazzles the crowd. A producer instantly signs her to a lifetime contract. Literally overnight, she is a movie star – and the fact that she can only work at night just heightens her mysterious air. Men fantasize about her. Women dream of being her. Passionella knows just how they feel (“I Know”). Her dream is fulfilled, but – wouldn’t you know – she isn’t happy (“Wealth”). Now she wants love, too. And finds it: she meets the rock star Flip, the Prince, Charming (a very funny amalgam of Marlon Brando, Elvis Presley, and what would shortly be termed a hippie). But Flip scorns her because she isn’t, like, Real (“You Are Not Real,”) from which country music may yet recover. To please him, Passionella goes to the head of her movie studio and demands a new, Real image, without which she will retire. The studio accedes and, for an astronomical $20 million budget (remember, this was 1966), they make The Chimney Sweep, shot all in the daytime, with Passionella doing all her own sweeping. Passionella wins the Academy Award®, presented by Flip, who flips (“Passionella, I love you, man”), then proposes. They go home, make love in front of the TV … and lose all track of time. Four a.m. arrives with a flash and a cloud of smoke. The smoke clears: Ella, Passionella no more, is terrified to show herself to Flip, who, she is now shocked to discover, is no longer Flip, but instead the insignificant George L. Brown, with a mousy, conventional suit and his own Friendly Neighborhood Godmother. Slowly, awkwardly, they get to know each other’s Real self, and of course (“Finale”) they live happily ever after.

– Marc Kirkeby

Credits

Adam: Alan Alda Eve: Barbara Harris Devil (Snake): Larry Blyden Balladeer (and Royal Tiger Keeper): Larry Blyden King Arik: Marc Jordan Princess Barbara: Barbara Harris Prisoner: Jay Norman Prisoner’s Bride: Jaclynn Villamil Nadjira: Carmen Alvarez Captain Sanjar: Alan Alda Guard: Robert Klein King Arik’s Court: Jackie Cronin, Barbara Lang, Mary Louise, Michael Davis, Neil F. Jones Narrator: Larry Blyden Ella / Passionella: Barbara Harris Mr. Fallible: Robert Klein Producer: Marc Jordan Flip, the Prince, Charming: Alan Alda Subway Riders/ El Morocco Patrons/Fans/Flip’s Following/Movie Set Crew: Carmen Alvarez, Jackie Cronin, Michael Davis, Neil F. Jones, Marc Jordan, Robert Klein, Barbara Lang, Mary Louise, Jay Norman, Jaclynn Villamil.