The Apple Tree

  • Date:
    December 1, 2006
    Review by:
    Barbara Mehlman

     

    Music by: Jerry Bock
    Book and lyrics by: Sheldon Harnick
    Directed by: Gary Griffin
    Choreography by: Andy Blankenbuehler
    Cast: Kristin Chenoweth (Eve, Princess Barbara and Ella), Brian d�Arcy James (Adam, Sanjar and Flip), Marc Kudisch (Snake), Walter Charles (King Arik, Employer and Producer), Meggie Nicole Cansler, Julie Connors, Sarah Jane Everman, Jennifer Taylor Farrell, Justin Keyes, Lorin Lataro, Mike McGowan, Sean Palmer, Dennis Stowe and Eric Santagata
    Synopsis: Three one-act musicals about men, women and a little thing called temptation. The Apple Tree is based on 'The Diary of Adam and Eve' by Mark Twain; 'The Lady or the Tiger?' by Frank R. Stockton; and 'Passionella' by Jules Feiffer, with additional book material by Jerome Coopersmith.
     

    I've been sitting at my computer for about an hour now, trying to find something insightful, profound, or trenchant to say about 'The Apple Tree,' something that will give this weightless musical constructed of three one-act plays a unifying theme and a bit of heft, but all I can come up with is that it's about the battle of the sexes through the ages. Pretty trite stuff -- except it's funny.

    Probably the three best things about 'Apple Tree' are Kristin Chenoweth, Brian d'Arcy James, and Mark Kudisch, a talented trio who make this musical work. And maybe Mark Twain too.

    Twain's Act I short story, 'The Diary of Adam and Eve,' is clever and . . . and maybe insightful. From the minute Adam feels a pain in his side and Eve shows up, we know that the differences between men and women existed from the Year of the Snake.

    There are the obvious ones, of course: Eve wants to talk; Adam doesn't. Eve wants to please him; he can't be pleased. Adam builds a hut; Eve decorates it. Adam says she mustn't eat the apple, and . . . well, you know. But Eve doesn't. And she doesn't know what Adam wants either.

    Act II is Frank R. Stockton's famous 1882 short story, 'The Lady or the Tiger,' which poses some. . . OK . . . profound questions. When commoner Captain Sanjar falls in love with Princess Barbara, her father has him arrested and he is given a provocative punishment: he must select a door. But this is no "Let's Make a Deal." Behind one door is a ferocious tiger that will eat him, and behind the other, Princess Barbara's beautiful serving maid whom he must marry.

    The Princess, however, is going to save her lover by telling him which door hides the tiger. Or will she lie? Would she rather see him devoured by the beast than married to another? Or is her love unselfish?

    And finally, the story of Ella, based on Jules Feiffer's 'Passionella.' This is a story of a chimney sweep who really wants to be a movie star. Then magic: Ella is in a sparkly, gold gown with body and beauty like Jayne Mansfield. It seems her Friendly Neighborhood Godmother has transformed her into a star, but there's a catch (isn't there always).

    Ella can only be Passionella between the hours of the Huntley-Brinkley news hour, and the Late Show. After that, she reverts to a chimney sweep. But she enjoys life within those constraints and even finds love -- and wisdom. Her Prince, it turns out, really wants someone real and so we're back to Adam and Eve, so to speak, and some . . . perhaps trenchant thoughts. What do men want? What do women need?

    Yes, there is a thread that ties together these three stories, and despite the depth of the questions that are raised, they feel more like separate skits of the Carol Burnett variety rather than a cohesive whole with an opinion. What makes them Broadway besides the stars is the music of Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock.

    These incredible men, creators of 'Fiddler on the Roof,' 'Fiorello,' and 'The Rothschlds,' have connected the stories with their enchanting songs, most of which are sung by the unbelievably adorable Chenoweth. On a Broadway stage, this Tony winner and former 'Wicked' star can do no wrong. She's teeny-tiny but fills the stage with her powerful voice and spot-on comic delivery.

    Kudisch, who won a Tony for his role in 'Thoroughly Modern Millie,' is a very persuasive Snake, Balladeer and Narrator, and d'Arcy James a recognizably clueless Adam and charming Charming. All in all, 'Apple Tree' is good fun though insubstantial, but Chenoweth makes it delicious.

     

    What the press had to say.....

    BEN BRANTLEY of the NEW YORK TIMES: �Simba, Tarzan, Beauty, Beast: sorry, kids, but you�re not even in the running. The most winning performance by an animated cartoon in a Broadway musical is not to be found among the rows of dancing cyborgs in Disney productions. Look instead to the stage of Studio 54, where the virtues of Betty Boop, Jessica Rabbit and Blondie (wife of Dagwood, not the pop group) have been blended into one small, blindingly radiant package that goes by the name of Kristin Chenoweth.�

    JOE DZIEMIANOWICZ of NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: "It is led by pint-sized powerhouse Kristin Chenoweth, the ideal leading lady for a show built for a knockout comic diva. Her co-stars are two seasoned pros, Brian d'Arcy James and Marc Kudisch. What's missing from the Roundabout revival is lightfootedness. Timing is everything in comedy. Griffin's production is pleasant, but it plods."

    CLIVE BARNES of NEW YORK POST: "Bock and Harnick imagined their three one-acters were linked with a theme of man, woman and temptation. Maybe. What they are really linked with is the unbearable lightness of being cute. It's an evening that runs with cuteness like an abattoir with blood. All three pieces provide a sugar overload capable of bringing the sensitive close to screaming and making even the undersensitive queasy." & "Luckily, the performances are. Chenoweth at times seems a cleverly calculated amalgam of Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett and Anna Netrebko - but at glossy heart she's all Chenoweth, a Broadway legend in the making and wondrous to behold."

    MICHAEL SOMMERS of the STAR-LEDGER: "Care for some light dessert on Broadway? Three flavors of musical sherbet are dished up in 'The Apple Tree,' with Kristin Chenoweth perched atop this tutti-frutti confection like a luscious cherry." & "By today's flashy standards, 'The Apple Tree' yields delicate fruit, but still it blossoms rather beautifully."

    ELYSA GARDNER of USA TODAY: "This fresh Apple has ample charm to sustain it for two hours." & "while the roles that Chenoweth assumes seem tailored to suit her adorable presence, the skits are inconsistent." & "Even at 4-foot-11, Chenoweth remains a force to be reckoned with.

    ROBERT FELDBERG of THE RECORD: "Kristin Chenoweth is one of the few actresses worth the price of admission all by herself, and in 'The Apple Tree,' she shows why. Even more than in such past triumphs as 'Wicked'' and "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown,'' she gets to show her wide comic range. Although stoutly supported by Brian d'Arcy James and Marc Kudisch, the petite actress is pretty much the only reason to see the slight musical."

    LINDA WINER of NEWSDAY: "Perhaps the only reason to revive 'The Apple Tree' is to showcase a couple or three shiny-bright apples. If so, the Roundabout Theatre Company has what it needs in Kristin Chenoweth, Brian d'Arcy James and Marc Kudisch - who are sweet and amused with one another and do everything but bake themselves into a pie to justify the extremely minor new production dwarfed by the oversized environs of Studio 54."

    PETER MARKS of THE WASHINGTON POST: "The shallowness of the piece only confirms the precariousness of the environment for a Broadway that relies too heavily on the past." & " Even with a sturdy director (Gary Griffin) and a certifiably adorable star, this is one banquet that goes downhill after the appetizer."

    ERIC GRODE of NEW YORK SUN: " Brian d'Arcy James and Marc Kudisch circle like moths around the 4-foot-11-inch light bulb that is Kristin Chenoweth, a reallife Southern belle. Those who have already given over to her Kewpie-diva charms will find abundant satisfaction in her role(s) here. By turns ingenuous and voracious, mousy and slatternly, she has a lot to work with."

    JOHN SIMON of BLOOMBERG: "The one-act play, though a perfectly respectable genre, has not found a home on Broadway. Ditto, the one-act musical. To give you your steep money's worth, a triple bill is needed, and it is hard to make three separate entities cohere in an emotionally satisfying way. That is why 'The Apple Tree,' with book, lyrics and music by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, is such a felicitous exception...What helps, too, in the current revival is the excellent casting, with Kristin Chenoweth, Brian d'Arcy James and Marc Kudisch doing wonders for their roles in all three acts, however disparate the stories."

    MICHAEL KUCHWARA of the ASSOCIATED PRESS: "Talk about polishing the "Apple" until it shines. In the Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of 'The Apple Tree,' Kristin Chenoweth makes her own special brand of musical-comedy magic. The woman belongs in the theater, preferably in a musical that can show off her voice and delirious comic timing at the same time. She gets just such an opportunity in this odd, uneven entertainment." & "The chorus lineup is exceptionally skimpy, but don't worry: Chenoweth can fill the stage all by herself."

    DAVID ROONEY of VARIETY: "Chenoweth has the timing and physical comedy skills of a classic screwball star like Carole Lombard, and her airy, effortless soprano makes enchanting work of songs such as 'Here in Eden,' 'Feelings,' 'What Makes Me Love Him' and the daffy lullaby 'Go to Sleep Whatever You Are." But even with her delectable turn, the material is too thin to support an entire act." & "The show doesn't exactly zip along under Griffin's workmanlike direction, but he knows the engine here is the pint-sized star with the radiant smile, and he gives her plenty of room to purr."

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