Harnick and Bock daringly refused to write songs that could be taken out of context, so none of them became standards, the way some often did from their other hits: the Pulitzer Prize-winning political satire Fiorello! (about New York's mayor LaGuardia — a show that ought to have been a role model for The Inspector), She Loves Me, or Fiddler on the Roof. But The Apple Tree score is both irresistibly tuneful and wittily parodic. There isn't a single dud. The Adam and Eve act is both comic and, finally, with the death of Eve, truly touching. The "Lady or the Tiger?" sounds like a soundtrack to a trashy movie epic of Ancient Rome ("his Royal Highness, her Flashing Eye-ness"). And Passionella is just non-stop hilarious.
In his program note, stage director Paul Malone, from the SpeakEasy Stage Company, writes about the importance of style. His bare-bones production (no scenery, just a few props) made up in imagination for lavish sets one never missed. And he imparted a sense of Broadway style to every member of the cast, from the leading players to every singing and dancing member of the chorus (these students all have to take acting, voice, and dance), just as music director F. Wade Russo, who has conducted The Apple Tree at the Goodspeed Opera House, imparted that same stylistic knowledge to Boston Conservatory's superb orchestra. Lillian Carter's delightful choreography effortlessly hit her Hollywood and television target. Every detail worked.
The Apple Tree also had an outstanding cast. Every leading player delivered a Broadway-ready star turn. Let me join the ovations for the excellent voices and comic skills of BoCo juniors Dan Rosales and Erin Kommor as Adam and Eve and Spencer Glass as the Snake, the lavishly gifted and gorgeously uninhibited Alessandra Vaganek as the barbaric Lady Barbara, and Celia Hottenstein, who combined Carol Burnett and Marilyn Monroe in her adorable, endearing Ella/Passionella, with a voice that when called for could ascend to operatic heights. Bravo and thanks to everyone involved.
Charles Strouse at Longy
Speaking of Broadway, the legendary 83-year-old Broadway composer Charles Strouse appeared at the Longy School (now officially a part of Bard College) to receive its Leonard Bernstein Lifetime Achievement Award. Strouse, with his late partner Lee Adams, gave us Bye Bye Birdie, Golden Boy (a Sammy Davis Jr. vehicle), Applause (the musical version of All About Eve starring Lauren Bacall), and "Those Were the Days," the theme song for All in the Family; and with Martin Charnin, Annie. He also composed the soundtrack for Bonnie and Clyde.
Longy dean Wayman Chin interviewed Strouse about his student days as a classical composer at the Eastman School of Music and his studies with Aaron Copland and Nadia Boulanger. Strouse confessed to taking dope with Paul Bowles, talked about marching with Sammy Davis Jr. in Selma (as well as some other colorful stories about that entertainment phenomenon), and reported that Bernstein's last words were: "What the hell is happening to me?" Strouse then played a delightful half-hour of " . . . and then I wrote," including his rock-and-roll hit "Born Too Late" ("my first song to make money") and one of his loveliest songs, the poignant lament for lost love, "Once Upon a Time," from a Ray Bolger flop called All American. Then some terrific Longy students played his early Wind Quartet, a Horn Sonata, a short three-movement string quartet, and best of all, Three American Pieces for Piano, works he self-effacingly referred to as "mediocre pieces with some profound 20-year-old thinking."