The Jerry Bock/Sheldon Harnick musical The Apple Tree hasn’t been revived on Broadway since the original 1966 production, which starred Barbara Harris in a Tony Award winning performance. Esteemed director Mike Nichols helmed the show and the leading lady received capable support from Alan Alda, but the musical was considered rather slim even back then. Now the Roundabout Theatre Company has brought a revival based on the acclaimed 2005 New York City Center Encores production to Studio 54. The Apple Tree directed by Gary Griffin is still slender; however, the cast headed by the dynamic Kristin Chenoweth with Brian d’Arcy James and Marc Kudisch delivers top notch robust comic work in hopes of filling the gap.
Ms Chenoweth, who won a Tony award herself in You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, is returning to Broadway after being thrust to the ranks of stardom with her Tony nominated performance as Glenda, the good witch, in the hit musical Wicked. She’s a triple threat singer, dancer and actress, as well as a blonde bombshell with an hour class figure, and a comic diva with a classically trained soprano voice. Standing just barely five feet tall Chenoweth is, nonetheless, a powerhouse performer possessed with an abundance of energy making her an excellent choice to breathe life into the dated musical. She has a Carole Lombard quality combined with the comic zaniness of Lucille Ball. She commands the stage, and once you’ve experience her rare gifts, I promise you’ll never forget her.
As a showcase for her dazzling talents, the show is, however, little more than three lame elongated musical skits stretched to the bursting point. The three one acts are based on stories by Mark Twain (“The Diary of Adam and Eve”), Frank R. Stockton (“The Lady or the Tiger’) and Jules Feiffer (“Passionella”).
Setting the tone for the evening Act I transports us to the Garden of Eden for “The Diary of Adam and Eve,” where we get the stereotypical battle of the sexes wrapped in ultra cute trimmings. Influenced by the temptation of an evil snake, we watch as Eve lures Adam to partake of the forbidden fruit resulting in their banishment from the magical garden and being forced to live an ordinary human existence.
In Act II we are taken to a semi-barbaric kingdom from ancient times for “The Lady or the Tiger?” Chenoweth is a jealous princess brandishing a whip, who must decide whether her lover would be “better dead than wed.” The man must choose between two doors, one conceals a certain death, the other a maiden for marriage.
“Passionella,” a romantic tale from the ‘60s, competes the evening with a clever Hollywood twist on Cinderella in which a chimney sweep is transformed into a Marilyn Monroe look-alike, but only from 6pm till midnight. She becomes a film star and falls for a handsome Prince, in the guise of a British rocker.
Gary Griffin’s staging does little to expand on his earlier City Center production. In fact the evening is a bare boned rendering that relies almost exclusively on cuteness for effect, which ultimately feels heavy handed. Think an extended Carol Burnett show with lots of music and you get the idea.
Chenoweth’s two co-stars are uniquely talented themselves working with devilish zest to transform the tired script into something more.
Brian d’Arcy James as Adam is the perfect foil for Chenoweth’s Eve. The two navigate the treacherous material exchanging comic zingers with timing and brilliance that brings the corny jokes to an acceptable level.
Marc Kudisch makes a sultry snake with slinky body language while performing triple duty as the fairy godmother and also the narrator.
The score by Bock and Harnick, who gave us the classic Fiddler on the Roof, has a nice range and the songs have an upbeat charm that helps the evening immensely. They are aided by Jonathan Tunick’s orchestrations and Rob Fisher’s musical direction that is first rate.
The cast has wonderful voices doing more than ample justice to the 15 musical numbers. The three ultimate pros headlining the musical make terrific efforts to lift the evening, but they are caught in a vacuum of skimpy stories and one noted direction.
gordin & christiano
Originally Published in Dan's Papers
The Apple Tree opened on Broadway at Studio 54, 254 West 54th Street, on December 14, 2006. Tickets are available, by phone at 212-719-1300, online at HYPERLINK "http://www.roundabouttheatre.org" www.roundabouttheatre.org or at the theatre box office.