Filichia Features: The Apple Tree, Parts Two and Three

Filichia Features: The Apple Tree, Parts Two and Three

By Peter Filichia on January 13, 2017

Last week we talked about the considerable assets of The Diary of Adam and Eve -- the first of three mini-musicals in Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s The Apple Tree. Let’s now meet the other two.

The Lady or the Tiger? is Frank R. Stockton’s story that was once ubiquitous in grammar school textbooks. Unenlightened medieval monarch King Arik has decided that any man accused of a crime must face a “trial” in which he walks into a stadium’s playing field and points to one of two doors. If a lovely lady emerges from one, the suspect’s considered innocent and even gets to marry the beauty.

If he chooses the other, out comes a tiger that’s mighty hungry. The king then shrugs and assumes that the about-to-be-devoured individual must have been guilty. So the accused either gets death or – as some might argue -- a fate worse than death.

In the original production, A Balladeer (Larry Blyden) introduces Princess Barbara (Barbara Harris) -- pronounced Bar-bare-a, to stress her daddy’s barbarism – who loves Sanjar (Alan Alda).

Stockton didn’t name his characters, but Bock and Harnick did, for they wrote the show’s book (with an early assist on Diary from Jerome Coopersmith). People often say “Stephen Sondheim’s musical” and neglect his bookwriter, but here we can say that The Apple Tree really is a Bock-and-Harnick musical.

The King likes Sanjar as a soldier but not as a son-in-law. So the lovers plan to elope and live “In Gaul,” a ditty with a delicious joke: “They say that it’s divided in three parts,” sings Sanjar, who’s obviously read Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic Wars. (In case you haven’t, it starts with “All Gaul is divided in three parts.”)

The lovers’ plot is discovered, so he’ll soon be facing the doors. Barbara wants to save his life – or does she? After she bribes a stadium employee, she knows the location of both lady and tiger. “I’ve Got What You Want,” she sings, making for a double-entendred torch song.

Stockton didn’t disclose which door the princess chose, so Bock and Harnick followed suit. This unresolved ending gives your attendees fodder for discussion during the second intermission.

The Apple Tree gives you two of them, allowing you twice the number of opportunities to fund-raise and sell your wares. A 1984 production at the University of Tampa appropriately offered Snapple Apple as libations. Should you prefer one intermission, do a dim-the-lights pause for the set change, as the 2006 Broadway revival did.

Bock-and-Harnick’s adaptation of Jules Feiffer’s Passionella has Narrator (Blyden) reading aloud from a book. Have you nervous, just-starting-out performers who fear that they’ll never be able to memorize? Cast one in this role. As we know, by opening night, your Narrator will know everyone’s lines.

Ella (Harris) is a chimneysweep with dreams of being a movie star. Abracadabra! A Fairy Godmother grants her wish, but Passionella’s magic only lasts “from Huntley-Brinkley to The Late Late Show.” (Today that means “from Lester Holt to Jimmy Fallon.”)

Passionella’s main points of interest are her breasts. If you YouTube Harris on the 1967 Tonys, you’ll see a much scaled-down bust. The Shubert Theatre attendees witnessed a veritable shelf on which Ayn Rand’s complete works could have fit.

The original production showed Passionella on magazine covers thanks to this revolutionary new device called projections. Audiences “oooohed” and “ahhhed!”  Now, more than 50 technological years later, they’ll be accustomed to them, but at least you’ll have comparatively few problems creating them.

Fame, fortune and body don’t make Passionella happy, but Flip (Alda) might. This Brando-in-a-motorcycle-jacket clone sings the dissonant, Bob Dylan-ish “You Are Not Real,” in which he catalogues Passionella’s vapid values. Still, the two find happiness – at least until The Late Late Show ends ...

You could cast nine leading performers rather than three. The division of labor means your actors will learn one part much faster and easier than three. If you cast only three and one can’t make it to a Tuesday rehearsal, you’ll have little recourse. But cast nine different actors and your decision will simply be whether to call a Lady/ Tiger or Passionella rehearsal that day.

Similarly, your ensemble will only be required for two-thirds of the rehearsals because The Diary of Adam and Eve is a mere three-person show. That also means it’ll have a two-thirds workload, backing up three songs in each of the other two mini-musicals.

After the Boston tryout, producer Stuart Ostrow was so taken with Harris, Blyden and Alda that he felt all should get top-billing. He did the next-best thing by rotating the billing each month. So 30 days after opening, the Shubert’s display cases stated Larry Blyden-Alan Alda-Barbara Harris; 30 days later, Alda-Harris-Blyden. The Apple Tree stayed 13 months on Broadway, so Harris and Blyden got top-billing five times while Alda settled for four.

If you have performers with name-recognition in your town, why not do the same for them? Today printing posters and programs is easier and inexpensive, so do Eve-Barbara-Ella for the first performance, Adam-Sanjar-Flip for the second and Snake-Balladeer-Narrator for the third.

In fact, rotating billing isn’t a bad idea for any show, is it?

Read more Filichia Features.

You may e-mail Peter at pfilichia@aol.com. Check out his weekly column each Monday at www.broadwayselect.com and Tuesday at www.masterworksbroadway.com. His book, The Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at www.amazon.com.