Saturday, June 13, 2009

review - The Apple Tree

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The Apple Tree
book, music & lyrics by Sheldon Harnick & Jerry Bock
additional book by Jerome Coopersmith
directed by Gary Lamb (1), William A. Reilly (2), Matthew J. Williamson (3)
choreography by Gary Lamb and Bradley Michael
Crown City Theatre
@St. Matthew's Church on Camarillo in NoHo
through June 28,
with probable extension

Composers Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, after their phenomenal success with Fiddler on the Roof in 1964, composed The Apple Tree (1966), which, at that time, was considered a unique musical due to its structure of 3 separate one-act plays. As in Fiddler, they were fond of stories about man and morality, how you learn life's lessons through experience. The current and rare mounting of the show at Crown City Theatre is a consummate joy, a great success for the entire creative team.
Act I - The Diary of Adam and Eve. Based on a story by Mark Twain, this chronicle is infused with incomparable wit and a homespun sense of humor that identified Twain as the genius that he was. It starts at the very beginning and takes us from Adam and Eve's awakening through their 'married' lives with sons Cain and Abel through to the end with Eve's death. It is simplicity at the core which makes this yarn work with all of its inferences to what makes man and woman tick, their differences and idiosyncrasies - and the simplest message of all: true love. Beautifully acted by Morgan Landers (Eve), Matthew J. Williamson (Adam) , Jon Mullich (Snake) and the entire ensemble recreating the various animals and cautiously directed by Gary Lamb, this is a bittersweet look at life in its truest form, before all the complexities of civilization came to the fore.
Act II - The Lady or the Tiger? Based on material by Frank R. Stockton, this short and satirical look at early civilization akin to the Roman Empire, deliciously shows man's obsession with power, control and greed. No more the innocence of Adam and Eve. When a prisoner is punished, he must choose one of 2 doors, a temptress waiting behind one and a ferocious tiger behind the other. But like The Price Is Right- it, too, was like a game, a sport, afterall - each door represents the unknown. Captain Sanjar (Josh Helmuth) and Princess Barbara (Kit Paquin) are put to the test of love, when their clandestine affair is discovered and he is arrested. To save him, the Princess finds out behind which door the tiger lies, but when she learns that her lovely servant Najira (Amy Ball) is the lady behind the other door, her jealousy consumes her. She will lose her lover either way. What does she do? Well guided by William A. Reilly, the entire cast is terrific with a particular nod to seductive Paquin.
Act III - Passionella. Based on a story by Jules Feiffer, who adores the cartoon to show the foibles of humanity and does it to perfection, this is life contemporary, where greed is king and the winner takes it all. A parody of Cinderella, a hardworking chimney sweep Ella (stunning Stephanie Fredericks), wants more than life to be a glamorous movie star and gets her wish thanks to fairy godmother, Narrator (Amy Ball), who appears to her through a TV set. She turns her into Passionella, but just for a few hours, of course. Life is grande until Passionella realizes how lonely she is. She meets rock star Flip (Bradley Michael, stepping into the role) who prefers his women 'down-to-earth'. With a clever reversal to the fairy tale's ending. the 2 lovebirds become...well, I won't spoil the surprise! Let's just say, the message reverts to Adam and Eve: true love wins out when life is unadorned, in its purest form. Fredericks is outstanding as Passionella, engaging and vocally supreme. Ball is a comic gem. Matthew J. Williamson serving as director here, does a skillful job and even makes a brief, but memorable appearance as a foreign film director.
This is an enchanting evening of theatre, so exquisitely produced for a 99-seat venue.
This is my first association with Crown City Theatre, but it certainly will not be my last. It is a gift to find another Broadway calibre theatre right in the neighborhood. They are in the league of the great theatre companies that include The Road, Antaeus and NoHo Arts Center.
5 out of 5 stars


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