Barbara Castonguay

The Apple Tree at In Tandem Theatre

By - May 4th, 2010 11:48 am
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Oh, the continuous battle between the sexes.  She decorates.  He just wants to be alone.  When will it all be resolved?


Luke Leonhardt as Adam and Georgina McKee as Eve. Photo by Mark Frohna.

The Apple Tree, by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Black (of Fiddler on the Roof fame), comprises  three stories about couples struggling to make love work.

Harnick and Black based their musical on tales by Mark Twain, Frank R. Stockton, and Jules Feiffer.  Twain told of Adam and Eve from Day One in the Garden of Eden through their lives together.  Stockton recounts the tale of a spoiled princess who, against her father’s wishes, falls in love with a common soldier.  The king gives the soldier a choice of two doors: one leads to his future wife (not the princess) and the other to a ferocious tiger.  In Feiffer’s story, Ella, a poor chimney sweep, dreams of becoming a glamorous movie star.  She gets her wish, but finds stardom meaningless without true love.

Neil Haven (whose Stuck recently played at In Tandem) added some charming incidental scenes to tie the stories together. In this context, the musical’s segments are stories told by a mother and father eager to get their daughter to sleep.

Leonhardt as Sanjar and McKee as Barbara. Photo by Mark Frohna.

Director Jane Flieller oversaw a collaborative Apple Tree. In Tandem and the UW-Milwaukee Inter-Arts Musical Theatre program joined forces in this production.  Professionals David Flores, Luke Leonhardt and Georgina McKee play the lead roles. Students fill the chorus and smaller speaking roles.

McKee charms as Eve, Barbara and Passionella/Ella.  She has great comedic instincts and flows effortlessly between characters.  As Adam, Leonhardt channels Rex Harrison, and it works.  His turn as Flip, the Prince Charming, complete with a mullet and cowboy hat, is hilarious and well-delivered.

Flores is the real star, though. His Garden Snake is perfectly snide, slithery and manipulative. His Balladier is appropriately ferocious. Flores bursts with energy and commitment, and his interpretations of musical numbers rise convincingly from the drama His songs and dances maintain, rather than halt, the momentum of the plots.

The one weakness here is the writing.  Harnick and Black’s treatments of the stories are contrived and derivative.  The Adam and Eve story begins as a schlocky “battle of the sexes” comedy and ends with the writers trying to ascribe deep meaning to schlock.  The other two stories are slightly more interesting, but predictable.

In Tandem puts on a good show despite the material.

The Apple Tree is playing at the Tenth Street Theatre from April 30th until May 16th.  Tickets and information available by calling 414-271-1371 or by visiting In Tandem on the web.

Categories: A/C Feature 2, Theater

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