BY CARY GINELL
“The Golden Apple” was one of those shows that was praised for its ability to charm, delight, and entertain without insulting your intelligence, but nevertheless was a dismal flop when it made its debut in 1954. Conceived by John Latouche, who wrote the book and the lyrics in collaboration with composer Jerome Moross, the show transposed the action in Homer’s “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” from ancient Greece to 1910 America. When it made its debut, it received universal raves from critics who called it “the best new musical comedy of the season,” “an enchanting production,” and “a bright new hit.” It was one of those scarce musicals that could be described in one word: perfection. Latouche’s lyrics and book were literate, satirical, and amusing; Moross’s tunes were sprightly and memorable, evoking music of 1910 America: waltzes, ragtime, early blues, and vaudeville. Like an opera, the show was sung-through with minimal dialog. Its cast included Priscilla Gillette, Stephen Douglass (who would star in “Damn Yankees” later that year), Kaye Ballard, Jack Whiting, & Bibi Osterwald. As imaginative as the theatricality of the literate story was, it was the more-than-brilliant score that should have made the show a huge hit.
The story tells of a soldier, Ulysses, who returns home after serving in the Spanish-American War to his wife Penelope in the small town of Angel’s Roost, Washington, nestled at the foot of (of course), Mt. Olympus. Trouble ensues when a traveling salesman, Paris, arrives and becomes attracted to Helen, a farmer’s daughter. They run off to the big city together while Ulysses follows in pursuit. He is gone for 10 years while his wife waits for him patiently at home. The big city is filled with temptations, such as the brokerage firm of Scylla & Charybdis. Ulysses and Paris finally duke it out in a boxing ring and Ulysses returns Helen back to Angel’s Roost.
In its Off-Broadway run at the Phoenix Theatre, it won Best Musical from the New York Drama Critics’ Circle. It opened on Broadway at the Alvin Theatre on April 20, 1954. Unfortunately, the show was canceled on August 7 after only 127 performances. Broadway historians note that “The Golden Apple” failed because it was too sharp, too witty, and the satire too pointed. The original cast album was released by RCA Victor, but when it, too, didn’t sell, RCA leased the album to Elektra Records, known for its releases of traditional folk music, reissued it in 1958. It was the only cast album the label ever released.
Today, nearly 60 years after its debut, “The Golden Apple” is still staged, but only sporadically, by producers who recognize its brilliance, and don’t care if nobody in the audience has ever heard of the show.
Here is a sample song from the cast album: Kaye Ballard singing “My Picture in the Papers.”