Book by Bock & Harnick
additional book materials by Jerome Coopersmith
Music by Jerry Bock
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
adapted from stories by Mark Twain, Jules Feiffer and Frank R. Stockton

INFO:

Opened at the Schubert Theatre    October 9, 1966    463 performances
Original Director: Mike Nichols
Original Choreographer: Lee Theodore
Original Producer: Stuart Ostrow
Original Leads: The Woman: Barbara Harris   The Man: Alan Alda   The Narrator/Devil: Larry Blyden
Cast Size: Male: 2    Female: 1    Ensemble: 10-12    Total Cast Size: 13-15, could even be done with a total of about 11 or so.
Orchestra: 16, but could be done with a trio and a synth or two, to make 5.
Published Script: Random House
Production Rights: MTI (Music Theater International)
Recordings: The original Broadway cast is quite strong, and the material is shown off well.
Film: None.
Other shows by the authors: Fiorello, Tenderloin, She Loves Me, Fiddler On The Roof, The Rothschilds

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

An evening of three one-act musicals, by the writers who created Fiddler On The Roof and Fiorello and She Loves Me! It’s small, relatively easy to produce, and it’s…well, it’s okay. And it will definitely work for certain theater companies.

Dinner Theaters in particular should love, love, love this show, largely because it is a natural for two intermissions, something Dinner Theaters use to sell drinks and such. It is easily produced, and can be fit onto a unit set that is almost a bare stage. Three leads, a small ensemble, easy music – this show was made for Colleges and Universities with limited resources and small departments. A good show, by the way, for theaters without wings or flies. A good show for theaters that are financially overextended. It’s easily marketed, as a musical authored by the men who created Fiddler. And who does not love Twain? A good show for busy Rep companies and Stock companies to squeeze into a season, as the load in, tear down and rehearsals required are relatively small for a musical. However, I don’t think it can withstand the critical scrutiny of a regional house production, and certainly not NYC.

Be Warned:

The subject is, to a real extent, sex. That is the forbidden fruit mentioned in each one-act. If you are dealing with kids, or have a skittish audience, don’t do this show.

Also, if you do not have two fantastically gifted singing actors, and a star singing actress, this show will not work. At all. They are the show.

THE STORY:

ACT ONE: “THE DIARY OF ADAM AND EVE” (Adapted from Mark Twain)

Adam is sleeping on the ground. A simple, spare set indicates Eden. A booming voice wakes the man up. Adam goes to work naming animals, badly. He selects a word to describe himself, a word that, as a man, he likes…single. Then, Eve wakes up. She admires her own beauty, and that of the world around her. (“Here In Eden”) Adam enters, muttering to a fish, and he and Eve confront each other for the first time, uncomfortably. They argue over the names of things.

Next day, Adam composes in his diary and complains that the new, long-haired creature follows him around. And Eve shows up, wanting to discuss the two of them. She feels they are an experiment, and she is the main part. Adam asks her how old she is, she says two days, and he promises her she’ll never make it to four. Eve sees that she hurt him, and wonders about “Feelings”. Another day, Eve invents fire and, sure he’ll be interested, shares it with Adam. Not knowing what fire is, he burns himself and glares at her.

Sixth day of Adam’s diary. The creature continues to name things. She shows up, and he tries to ignore her. She casually eats an apple until he sees what she’s doing, and forcefully stops her. He discovers it’s not one of the forbidden apples from over the hill. This gets Eve’s curiosity going. Adam asks her to leave him alone, when it starts to rain. He has built a shelter, and it starts to rain, so she asks if she can come in with him. He refuses, she starts to cry, and he finally gives in. And immediately this “Eve” starts redecorating, driving him mad. And yet, he feels that she is beautiful. He returns, and she’s made a mad hat of flowers, which he definitely doesn’t appreciate. She thinks all nature is beautiful, and that he is narrow-minded. He comes back with a new invention of his – humor – and tells her the first joke (which he thinks is hilarious), about a chicken crossing a path… She’s not amused. She’s decided that since they are different from all living things, the place they live should be different, and the grass around it should be different…shorter.

Another day. Eve’s relentless seeking after improvements exhausts Adam. In the meantime, Eve, alone, looks at her reflection in a pond, and sings about how they are so alike, they must be “Friends”.

Next day, Adam, sitting in a tub, laughs relating how Eve fell into a pond yesterday. She found it was cold, so she rescued all the fish from the pond, and they are now living in the hut. Adam insists she return the fish to the pond. He wants to get away alone, and decides to (once again) ride over Niagara Falls in a barrel. She is afraid for him, but he is going crazy for some quiet. She’s alone, no friends…when the Snake shows up. He explains about reflections. She is alarmed, now she has no one! He can solve all that. All she needs to do is take an apple from “The Apple Tree” that is over the hill and forbidden, and eat it. She agrees to try it, so she won’t be alone.

In the meantime, Adam wanders about and enjoys the “Beautiful, Beautiful World” he lives in. But as he does, he sees a lion eat a lamb, it horrifies him, and he knows that something has changed. He finds Eve and accuses her of eating the forbidden apples. She tells him they’re not forbidden, the snake says only chestnuts are forbidden. And she blames the change happening on Adam, and his sense of humor. He is mortified, he believes her, and he knows they must leave the garden. She strangely insists on being clothed, and he does not understand. She offers him an apple. She says again they are not forbidden, and he takes a bite – and then realizes he needs to get dressed. Eden vanishes, as they leave.

They have a new home. And they need each other, now. She cooks, using her invention of fire, a thing Adam thought was impractical. He invents multiplication. And, well, she’s growing heavier. Later, Eve seems to have caught a very noisy, new breed, and Adam is convinced that “It’s A Fish”. It’s not, it’s their first child. Eve tells it to “Go To Sleep, Whatever You Are”.

The children grow. Eve knows now they are “boys.” Abel is a sweet young man, but Cain is horrible. Then, one day, Cain struck Abel and ran away.

They grow old, and Eve muses that they should die together. He is ill, and old, and she ponders about “What Makes Me Love Him”. But it is Eve who dies first. And Adam realizes that it did not matter that they left the garden, because wherever Eve was, was paradise. He exits to water the flowers that she loved.

ACT TWO: “THE LADY OR THE TIGER” (Adapted from Frank R. Stockton)

A Balladeer (same actor who did the Snake) lets us know “I’ll Tell You A Truth”, that jealous lovers go to hell. And as peons “Make Way” for the entrance of Princess Barbara (Eve) and her father, King Arik. The King has established a challenge. There are two doors set in an arena, and they look exactly alike. A prisoner can take his pick of the doors. Behind one is a man-eating tiger. The other hides a beautiful women, and they will be married on the spot, like it or not. This was justice in the kingdom.

There also lives in the Kingdom a brave soldier, Sanjar (Adam). Barbara contrives to be alone with the hero. Theirs is a “Forbidden Love”. They are repeatedly interrupted, and he suddenly dives into his war stories as a dodge. Sanjar dreams of living “In Gaul” with Barbara; but they are caught embracing by the King.

Sanjar is to go through the trial of two doors, and Barbara is determined to save him. She decides to enlist the aid of the Royal Tiger-Keeper, who is the balladeer, and she removes her jewelry to give to him. He warns her that the knowledge of which door the tiger will be behind is dangerous, but she buys the information. Now, she sings of Sanjar, “I’ve Got What You Want”, ecstatic. But a beautiful woman is marched by her…the woman who will be behind the second door. And suddenly, for Barbara it’s “Tiger, Tiger”, prepare for your supper. She is tortured, she doesn’t know what to do. The doors are in place, Sanjar brought in, and made to choose. He’s desperate to know “Which Door” to open. Barbara motions to a door…but what is behind it?

ACT THREE: “PASSIONELLA” (Adapted from Jules Feiffer)

A rooftop in NYC today. Ella, as the Narrator informs us (the Snake again) was a chimney sweep. And we see her at work. But that’s just her job. Her dream? “Oh, To Be A Movie Star”. Then she loses her job to a machine. All that’s left is her dream. She doesn’t need to be a rich, glamorous movie star. Rich is not important to her.

She hunts fruitlessly for work. Things get worse and one night, her TV has no picture. Then, an electronic voice pours forth from the TV, and it’s her Godmother. She makes Ella’s dream come true, and Ella is immediately “Gorgeous”, transformed into Passionella, a movie star.

But she will only be Passionella between the hours of the evening news, and the Late-Late Show. The rest of the day, she’s just Ella. Without a moment to lose, she heads off to El Morocco, a nightclub where everyone stares and wonders “Who Is She?”

The legend grows about this strange and beautiful woman who only shoots her films at night. The world tells her they love her, to which she responds “I Know”. But was she happy? She has “Wealth”, fame, success, everything she wanted. She is not happy.

Then, she meets the right man. A recording star, an amalgamation of all that is perfect in men. (The Adam actor.) Her Flip Charming. He does not care for her beauty or fame. He claims that only “reality” interests him, in his pseudo-hippy way. And Passionella, well… “You Are Not Real”.

Next day she informs the head of the studio she wants to stop playing glamorous roles, and instead play a “real” person…a chimney sweep. And she insists on filming in the daytime. And as she is Ella during the day, her portrayal is seen as high art, and Passionella wins the Oscar. Flip is in love with her, and asks her to marry him. They spend the night making love. Then, the Late-Late Show ends. Ella is Ella again, and Flip appears as a shy, mousy man. They each are surprised, each point at the TV in explanation. He is really “George L.” Brown. And they lived happily ever after.

THE SONGS:

“Here In Eden”, “Feelings”, “Eve”, “Friends”, “The Apple Tree”, “Beautiful, Beautiful World”, “It’s A Fish”, “Go To Sleep Whatever You Are”, “What Makes Me Love Him”, “I’ll Tell You A Truth”, “Make Way”, “Forbidden Love”, “In Gaul”, “I’ve Got What You Want”, “Tiger, Tiger”, “Which Door?”, “Oh, To Be A Movie Star”, “Gorgeous”, “Who Is She?”, “I Know”, “Wealth”, “You Are Not Real”, “George L.”

MY OPINIONS:

As always, feel free to ignore or skip my opinions and rating.  I wonder if this counts as skipping me three times?  Ah, well.

I think that of all the Bock & Harnick scores, overall, this is the weakest. In particular, the middle story, The Lady or the Tiger, is not wonderful work, and frankly, though it is stronger, Passionella is only marginally better.

The first act, based on Twain, is the most effective, and I sort of wish Bock and Harnick had taken their prodigious abilities and expanded that piece into a full evening of theater. It has some (not much) memorable music, clever moments, and promise that is somewhat stifled by the speed at which the tale must be delivered to accommodate two other short musicals in an evening of entertainment. I’ve looked over Twain’s original piece, and had they chosen to, there was plenty of material there to adapt. It may be that, in the case of each of these three one-acts, the authors felt they were not strong enough to carry an evening. That may be right, but if so, why bother to adapt them at all? There’s a universe of adaptable material out there, especially in the mid-60s if you happened to be the men who had just written Fiddler On The Roof, and you had a Pulitzer Prize on your mantle from having created Fiorello.

I can only assume that they elected to do an evening of short musicals as an experiment in form. And they had top talent involved, with Mick Nichols, genius that he was, directing, and a very well-known and gifted cast who doubtless saw this as a showcase for their diversity. So this was an experiment that was very well-supported indeed. It’s not that an evening of three one-act musicals was (or is) a bad idea. Though I could argue that a one-act musical doesn’t allow the audience enough time to commit to a story and its characters, inherently limiting the emotional response to the show.

How to make this work? Anyone doing the piece will need to find an approach at the start of each act to somehow immediately get the audience involved. Not merely interested, by the way, but involved. Playing an overture-like piece of music prior to each short musical, showcasing melodies that no audience knows will not accomplish this, and I debate the need for mini-overtures or “preludes” in this show. In fact, it could be argued that such overtures might push an audience off. Somehow, the action in each one-act needs to be jump-started.

Perhaps use of multi-media would help. Act I – show the audience a visual re-creation of the primeval world, dinosaurs and all. You could use footage from silly old movies with claymation, or something more sophisticated, like Walking With Dinosaurs. Use bloody footage of them fighting and eating each other. Then, footage of that great meteor hitting earth, and then a silent, barren world.


Start your music, a beautiful theme for Eden, and the sounds of a few birds. Hints of greenery for a set, dropped from the rafters to hang over the stage. And a man, sleeping center, in the garden. As if God has cleared the way for the garden and man with the use of a meteor. Anyway, something creative that gets the audience interested right away.

Act II, primitive human times. There are tons of old silent movies about ancient civilizations and barbaric rights, and a reel of these over barbaric drums (as in “Make Way”) might be fun and set up the over-the-top approach to Lady And The Tiger. Silent film stars in togas and ancient armor, fighting, dying and loving, to rise on a scene where the actors are in the same position, more or less, as the last image we saw on the suspended screen.

Then the balladeer walks on, center, and sings. Get the audience laughing and energized.

Act III, more silent movies of passionate movie starlets, beautiful women, as music appropriate to romantic silent films plays, perhaps the opening music for the piece re-orchestrated.


Then we realize that Ella is sitting and watching the film, as if on a TV, with the audience. Perhaps she’s somehow seated in the front. She makes lots of admiring noises, and the audience becomes aware of her. She traipses onto the stage, wishing to be a movie star.

A lot of silent film footage is in the public domain, so this may be easily done, and nearly free to do. It’s just one possible approach. You should plan on finding creative ways to involve an audience. And remember that two intermissions is one more than most musicals have. It’s an extra opportunity for people to disconnect, to leave. So somehow, you should fill the Intermissions with an on-going sense of the play. Change the set in front of the audience, lights up, no drapes. Have the actors do make-up for the next role in front of the audience, using lit-up mirror and stations that roll on and off. Perhaps have an “Intermission” show in the aisles or lobby using the actors in the ensemble, which would certainly make their lives more interesting. Have that show be appropriate for the next piece coming up. Strange gladiatorial games and bear wrestling and barbaric rights (all comic, of course) for “Lady Or The Tiger.” A Hollywood audition circa 1935, for Act III, in which perhaps a member of the audience is taped doing two lines of dialogue, and it’s shown on the screen, by a “film crew”, already in costume for “Passionella.” These interludes need to be made fun, to involve the audience, to keep the evening going.

Each one-act musical in the piece is what it is. Your production can have the most impact on this show by creatively re-inventing the Intermissions and introductions to Act II and III.

There’s more. Act I is pretty static, as it is 90% the two actors. The ensemble is not involved as written. You could go the “The Skin of Our Teeth” or “The Lion King” route and have the ensemble in animal costumes, interacting with Adam and Eve, but seeing what they are talking about would remove most of the humor of their descriptions, so I would not go there. There really is no good way to put other people in Eden, so the piece is likely to be static. But the snake could make a far earlier appearance, watching, plotting, planning. He could be modern, dressed in a suit, carrying a camera, surreptitiously snapping nude photos of Eve for his own pleasure, recording notes on how to pervert them onto his cell phone, preparing a power-point presentation to sell Eve on the apple, which we might even see on the big screen. All this could be done without dialogue, so no re-writing need be done. It would add comedy, tension, and a third body to the proceedings, mitigating what is inherently static in this piece.

By contrast, Act II is intended to be an explosion of color, movement, and human bodies. The energy should go way up. Unfortunately, the bodies are almost all window dressing, with the story really being about a man and woman. Pressure can be added to this by somehow making the presence of the tiger real. The sound of his roars somewhere in the castle. A peon walking through with the tiger’s daily feeding of arms and legs. Also, for there to be any pressure in the story, the woman who would marry Sanjar if he selects her door should be drop-dead sexy and beautiful. Every woman in the audience should be placed in Barbara’s position, what would she do? This act appears to be the shortest of the three, and has the least interesting score. So the story elements will need to be emphasized for tension, and the life-and-death aspect made palpable. This act, as written, lacks any sense of humor, and I would not provide it one. Let it be a display of barbarism and violence, primal and sexual and angry.

Act III feels reasonably contemporary as a story. But some of the songs, an attempt to write a rock-feel in the mid-sixties, horribly date the piece, as does some of the dialogue. If a few words here and there can be expunged, like Charming calling Passionella “man”, as in “hey, man…” that might help move the piece away from it’s pseudo-hip sensibilities. The most damning (and boring) song in this act is “You Are Not Real”, a quasi-psychedelic embarrassment. Of course, you could play this act in the period, and for its camp rather than comic values. Go way over the top with the 60′s thing, love beads and long hair and free love and peace signs and drugs and whatever. I think this might be more entertaining overall, though I personally hate camp, and think it’s largely the work of people looking for easy laughs at the expense of some older form. But this piece may not leave you much choice, it has to work somehow.

All in all, this evening of theater needs creative help. It needs a directorial concept that will make the audience care more than the material allows. It needs to be more fun, more visual, more interesting. I think some of the needs can be filled in ways described above and below, of course. The show’s impact can certainly be improved. It could be a fun and interesting musical for the right theater company and audience. And today, given the reduced attention span of audiences, thanks to video games, TV and other media, perhaps this show is a harbinger of what we will all be trying to write and produce in the future.

MY RATING: * (A better-than-average and interesting show, right for many groups)

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:

As is true of nearly all Bock’s scores, the music is reasonably tuneful and simple. It shouldn’t be very hard to play, teach or learn. Your three leads do have a lot to do, however, and you’ll need to get an early start with them.

The Woman – Plays Eve, Barbara, Ella/Passionella. An alto with a good, strong belt and some nice high notes. Very emotionally expressive.

The Man – Plays Adam, Sanjar, Charming. Lyric baritone with clear, clean voice. A pleasant voice, easy to listen to, that expresses emotions well.

The Snake – Also the balladeer and narrator. Lyric baritone or a tenor with some low notes. Clear, compelling, energetic voice.

King Arik – Baritone, mature voice, filled with passion and anger.

Ensemble – Various vocal types, should harmonize well.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:

Well, a mixed bag for a choreographer. Act I is pretty much devoid of any need for a choreographer. Act II starts with a big, primitive march-like entrance, and is followed by some numbers that could be improved with dance. Act III has a few numbers that need dance, as well. A Choreographer is going to be limited pretty much to working on “Make Way”, “Who Is She?”, “I Know”, “You Are Not Real”. Not a lot of fun, but you will need creative ideas to fit the motif selected by the Director for each of these two acts.

Your ensemble will need to move well.

CASTING CONCERNS:

The Woman – Plays Eve, Barbara, Ella/Passionella. An actress in her 30s-40s with great dramatic and comic range. Able to play sweet but self-involved, primitive and sexual, air-headed and squeaky, who becomes the height of Monroe-type Goddess, variously for each act. The characters must also evolve to some extent during each act, no small assignment in a short piece. Really needs a star level talent. Cast for acting, voice, and then dance.

The Man – Plays Adam, Sanjar, Charming. 30s-40s. Needs a fine and versatile actor, likeable, intelligent, rangy. Adam is bemused, confused, trying to make things work, but he’s a guy who wants his space. He falls in love with Eve slowly, we need to see him change. Sanjar is masculine, violent, a manly-man. Charming is a quasi-Hippy, cool, famous, big cheesy grin, and then as George L, slight, shy, private. Cast for acting, voice, then movement.

The Snake – Also the balladeer and narrator. 30s-50s. Strong actor with presence, not much versatility needed. Capable of playing slimy, sneaky. Clear voice. Cast for acting and voice.

King Arik – 50-60s, a barbaric king (later could play a studio head, it’s pretty much the same thing). Cast for type, then acting, then voice, then movement. Will double in ensemble.

Ensemble – For Acts II and III. Cast various ages and types with strong voices and dance ability. If you’re doing the Intermission approach described above, get actors who are comfortable confronting an audience, and who perhaps have some improv training.

SETS:

This is a small show, and it does not need to become a big one. It won’t work any better with big and expensive sets. In fact, it will work less well, because such elements developed fully beg the audience to ask, where’s the rest of each story. Suggested sets, some multi-media perhaps, cut-aways perhaps, rolled on pieces perhaps, unified by art motif for each one-act, should be all that you do. More will be too much.

Adam builds a hut. This could be suggested by a straw and leaf roof, perhaps three feet long, suspended from the rafters by wire.

Arik’s palace should reek of barbarism, from torches to statues of primitive gods eating babies, to the heads of enemies mounted on spikes. You can have some fun, here, but it should all be suggested rather than literal. And there are those famed two doors! They should look in period, ominous, radiate danger. Perhaps they are covered with relief images of dead and decimated bodies, or something like that. At the top of each door could be two faces in relief, a lady in a veil, and a tiger, jaws wide open.

Passionella starts on a rooftop in NYC, and a suggested backdrop (perhaps on a screen, as part of the multi-media presentation) would help. She needs a TV, and a place to watch it. Maybe her home is under an umbrella she carries around, and she lives on rooftops. She opens the umbrella, rolls out a sleeping bag, opens a can of beans and pulls a small TV from a backpack, plugging it in to a roof socket. That’s funny and sad.

Later, she’s filmed, and a movie camera on a rolling stand will serve.

Charming needs a place to take Passionella. Perhaps a few pieces of extravagant furniture, placed before the act starts and in a corner of the stage, unlit until needed. They will need a couch. But again, this act is a fairy tale, they all are, so don’t go literal.

There is room for some creative expression in the sets. But I’d keep them simple, easy to move on and off, and very inexpensive.

COSTUMES:

Adam and Eve can’t be naked, obviously. I suggested one approach, but you can get as creative as you like with it. The Snake should seem out of place and time, and dangerous.

All the characters in Act II should be dressed in some sort of barbaric, revealing wear. Fur, metal, big buttons, think Genghis Khan but sexy.

If you are going to spoof the 60s in Passionella, your costuming will need to be informed by the many movies from that time. And Passionella’s “star” dress should be amazing! It will probably need to go over her costume of rags and soot, which start the act. And Charming will need period-correct nerd clothes under his star outfit, as his change is almost instantaneous as well.

And remember, your three leads have to be able to breathe, they sing a lot. An interesting assignment.

PROPS:

There will be a few. Diaries for Act I. Something for Adam and Eve to write with. Swords and spears for Act II, as well as shields. A crown for Arik, perhaps one for Barbara, primitive and almost hand-made. The movie camera, appropriate for the period you set the third act in. Perhaps movie star “stuff” like a hand mirror for her. Love beads for Charming. Not a difficult job, overall. The “weaponry” will generally be available at a prop shop.

LIGHTING:

Pretty important, as the stage will largely be bare. Moods change quickly, and numbers are sometimes jammed in right next to each other, and need to be somehow visually differentiated. There will be a lot of cues for this show, most likely.

And each act needs its own look, maybe its own color palate. Eden is green, natural, healthy, open. When they eat the apple, the world becomes brown, dead, deadly.

Act II takes place in an enclosed place, a dark castle lit by torches. And the focus must somehow work around the two doors, isolated and deadly. Lots of shadows, perhaps.

Act III is “Hollywood” lighting, the whole thing could feel like a bad movie. At first, dark and sad, though out in the open, shadows, no key lighting. Then, she’s a star! Klieg lights! Spot lights! Key lights! It would be fun to make the third act light like a movie.

MAKE-UP:

Act I – fresh, clean, simple, nothing noticeable. Act II, barbaric, war paint, heavy eye make-up, very noticeable and designed to emphasize threat and violence. Act III, she’s covered in soot which must almost immediately come off to be replaced by movie star make-up and looks…and a wavy blonde Marilyn wig. To be again replaced at great speed by soot and rags. The “beautiful people” should not look the same as “commoners.” Hair styles for this piece should reflect the period and maybe get a few laughs.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right):

Director, Choreographer, Costume Designer, Lighting Designer, Set Designer, The three leading actors

MY THOUGHTS:

This is a show that really needs a strong Director and design team. The three stars will need to be very strong, but even that will not carry The Apple Tree. The conceptualization and Design work will need to make this show more interesting, more involving, for it to work as an evening of theater. I would think this show would benefit more than most from a fair amount of pre-production discussion and design.

The show is a showcase for three very strong, capable performers. Staging should be relatively easy and quick to get done. These facts will appeal to stars.

I do not love this show. I think it’s problematic. That said, it’s an inexpensive and small show, by major musical theater writers, that could fit in very well for the right company in the right season. It could be exactly right for your needs. And with an aggressively creative approach, it could be somewhat re-invented and made to work well. (If aggressively creative approaches to shows aren’t your strong suit, I would do a different show.)