by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Jacksonville University’s drama department completed a three performance run of The Apple Tree on JU’s homecoming weekend, October 20 to 24.
The Apple Tree by Jerry Bock/Sheldon Harnick debuted in New York in 1966 and played 463 performances, with Alan Alda of “M*A*S*H fame in the leading role. The work was revived in NYC in 2006 with Kristin Chenoweth in a limited run that was so well received that it won the 2007 Tony for Best Revival of a Musical. JU’s production, the first for the Jacksonville area, was truly entertaining and absolutely delightful, and makes us wonder why no community theatre has The Apple Tree presents three mini-musicals based on stories by three authors. “The Diary of Adam and Eve” is based on a short story by Mark Twain; “The Lady or the Tiger” is based on a classic short story written by Frank Stockton and first published in 1882; “Passionella” was adapted from Jules Feiffer’s work.
“The Diary of Adam and Eve” was about one hour long, and featured just three performers. Erick Crow as Adam and Tara Yates Reeves as Eve could not have been better in vocalizing the many humorous songs about the perplexing differences between men and women, as they went about their tasks of naming animals, bringing order to their part of the universe, and creating a life together. Stephen Michael Johns was marvelous as The Snake, slinking and slithering on the stage as he temped Eve to eat forbidden fruit. The set was sparse and effective, with a stylized tree outlined on a backdrop, and ladders and planks used as building materials for the home that Adam constructed. The costuming of Adam and Eve was interesting, as it showed a progression from simple white garments worn in paradise to more sophisticated clothing as civilization progressed.
The second selection, “The Lady and the Tiger” was introduced by Nick Boucher as the Balladeer, who narrated the story with a rich voice and comic flair. JU senior Maggie Dodd was Princess Barbara, who lives in a barbarian society where prisoners are subjected to an unusual test of innocence or guilt; they must chose one of two doors to open. Behind one door is a beautiful woman, behind the other, a deadly tiger (Meg Woods). The innocent escape death, but must then marry the woman, the guilty die quickly, if unpleasantly. When King Arik (Alec Hadden) discovers that the Princess loves Captain Sanjar (Charles Chase), a suitor beneath her station, he sentences Sanjar to the test of the doors. While the Princess does love Sanjar, she is also jealous of his past attentions to another. The Princess has learned what awaits and indicates which door her lover should choose. He will be lost to the Princess forever, but how? Will he find a beautiful bride and continued life or a ravenous tiger and certain death? The Lady or the Tiger? Curtain!!
This show had much humor, despite the subject matter we described. It was also very colorful. It featured a number of JU students in supporting roles that included: Guards-Mitchell One, Stephen Michael Johns, Ross Frontz. Handmaidens-Lindsey Brownawell, Jordyn Jones. Prisoner-Erick. Crow. Prisoner’s Bride-Jet Thomas. Dancers-Jennah Gayle Knight, Liz Concilla, Leah Blair and Leanna Brown as Nadjira. The set included a stone throne and massive carved doors. Costumes suggested very ancient civilizations.
“Passionella” is a takeoff on the Cinderella story. This mini-musical is narrated by Stephen Michael Johns, and tells the story of Ella/Passionella (Tracy Davis), a chimney sweep who wants to be a movie star. She sang a terrific, very funny song, “Oh, to be A Movie Star”. Thanks to her fairy godfather she becomes the glamorous movie star Passionella and falls in love with Prince Charming (Ross Frontz). Just as in Cinderella, the dream ends. She returns to life as a dreary chimney sweep, while the prince changes to a nerdy type fellow; she falls in love with him. Director Robert Tudor made this a big production number as well, with the actors who appeared in the previous two acts coming back as various types involved in the movie business, including a large contingent of admirers who performed some very creative dance numbers. The set included a very large representation of a television screen. Costumes included a slinky gold gown for Passionella, and 60s style mini-dresses, with geometric designs, for her admirers.
Costumer Allison Steadman had a number of theatre students involved in all phases of the costume making process. Musical Director Bobb Robinson led the twelve piece student orchestra that was tucked under the Swisher Theatre Stage. The Scenic designs by Matthew Ward and the interesting lighting by Misty Livingston great enhanced the experience of seeing this unique musical.
We always look forward to musicals done at Jacksonville University. We were, once again, impressed by the quality of the voices that performed and the attention paid to all aspects of production
THE APPLE TREE @ JU
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM