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'The Apple Tree' showing at Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre, Walthamstow running until 30th August 2014
Book, Music and Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock
Additional book material by Jerome Coopersmith
Based on stories by Mark Twain, Frank R. Stockton and Jules Feiffer
Directed by Brendan Matthew
Produced by Andrew Yon
Musical Direction and Orchestrations: Aaron Clingham
Starring: Rafe Watts, Catriona Mackenzie, Daniel Donskoy, Rosie Glossop, Luke Wilson, Lauren Austin, Danny Holmes, Michaela Cartmell, Xandy Champken and Adam Corrigan
Tony Award winning composers Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock (‘Fiddler on the Roof’) have well and truly arrived in five star style at Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre in Walthamstow. Forty-eight years after their show premiered on Broadway, the enchanting world of ‘The Apple Tree’ is being staged in a charming olde-worlde Grade II London listed building. I can honestly say this is the most entertaining musical production I’ve seen in a long time – if you are after a night of humour, enchantment, glamour and the razzle dazzle of a spectacular Broadway smash hit without the expense, then get on down to Walthamstow. What’s more you will be able to watch three short musicals in one night!
Produced by Andrew Yon for All Star Productions and written in the 1960s, ‘The Apple Tree’ consists of three Acts (playlets) which differ in storyline and yet share a common theme: if you have ever truly believed you want something and then when you get it realise that perhaps it wasn’t what you wanted after all, then you will identify with these comic tales of love and success. Each story skips along and will have you laughing and gasping.
The production opens with ‘The Diary of Adam & Eve’, based on Mark Twain’s story. Brendan Matthew (Director and Set Designer) has created the most bewitching, beautiful paradise with vine leaves and garlands of flowers. Soft green lighting (Sky Bembury) gives the impression of sitting in an apple orchard and the sound of birds tops off the fresh, hazy, summery ambience. Credit at this point must be given to Kat Gagan who has designed a collection of eye-catching animal puppets including a badger, fox, deer and an exotic bird. They all belong in the chorus and work well with the overall storyline without looking out of place or silly, each of them adding to the charm of the paradise garden.
The five piece orchestra is situated at the back of the space. Aaron Clingham (Musical Director and Orchestrations) is particularly sensational in the opening piano piece. The orchestrations sound more like a large symphony orchestra and each harmony has been carefully arranged to produce the most evenly blended, dreamlike sequences so the overall score glistens throughout all three acts. Aaron is accompanied by Ruth Whybrow (Reeds), Jade Brightwell / Rose Richardson (Violin), Catriona Cooper (Viola) and Tatiana Judycka (Cello).
Catriona Mackenzie gives an animated ‘Alice in Wonderland’ portrayal as winsome Eve who is stuck in the Garden of Eden with her less than chivalrous companion, the misogynistic Adam played by Rafe Watts. Catriona gives a fresh, invigorating performance in her role as the scatty, charming Eve who just wants to decorate their home and enjoy the nature surrounding them. Adam is the opposite and Rafe Watts depicts him as an angry, agitated young man who grows sick of Eve and strides about his paradise in a sexist, aggressive, chest-thumping way. “She was filling up the hut with rubbish, with flowers and plants...” he sings. The Adam and Eve story is a metaphor for many disenchanted couples!
The real star of Act I and the entire production is Daniel Donskoy who plays the role as the devilish Snake. ‘Forbidden Fruit’ sees him creeping and practically slithering across the space in the hope of seducing Eve with the forbidden apple. Donskoy possesses the most effortless star quality in such abundance that it’s impossible not notice him. Yes, he oozes charm and charisma but it’s very rare that such an extraordinary talent is blessed with a certain natural aura that reaches beyond gifted, well-rehearsed or engaging. I can only compare this organic quality to silver screen musical theatre legends such as Dick Van Dyke and Gene Kelly. It’s a distinct spirit and look that isn’t moulded or sculpted since it exists naturally. What’s even more astounding is that ‘The Apple Tree’ marks Donskoy’s musical theatre début which sees him sing, narrate and play the guitar. He literally steals every scene without even trying. Daniel trained in Musical Theatre at Arts Educational, London and according to the theatre programme grew up in Berlin and Tel Aviv but was born in Moscow and he is quoted as saying, “The Jewish influences in this musical made it an absolute delight to learn this fantastic score.”
There is a fifteen minute interval before Act II begins ‘The Lady or The Tiger’ (based on the short story by Frank R. Stockton). The orchestra is spine-tingling and the Act opens with a beautiful overture and the red hot choreography by Chris Whittaker is out of this world. Daniel Donskoy takes on the role as Narrator and Balladeer which sees him playing some incredible melodies on the guitar.
Danny Holmes gives a chilling performance as the ruthless, nutty King Arik, a demonic despot who toys with a prisoner into choosing his fate. Holmes perfectly captures the madness and wild-eyed Edward Scissorhands look of the bushy haired tyrant. “Prisoner Choose!” he shouts.
Rosie Glossop gives a powerhouse performance as Princess Barbara and rips up the dance floor with the terrific Lauren Austin (Nadjira) and Michaela Cartmell thanks to Chris Whittaker’s sensational choreography. Glossop belts out soul number ‘I’ve Got What You Want’ in what is a breathtaking, high-energy performance. Similarly, her duet with Luke Wilson (Captain Sanjar) is momentous. Wilson plays on everyone’s sense of horror as the prisoner who has to choose his fate – one door leads to a tiger’s jaws and the other door leads to a beautiful woman. Either door is painful for his despairing lover….but which door will he pick…. In order to find out you’ll need to get yourselves along to Ye Olde Rose & Crown Theatre! Watch out for the tiger designed by Kat Gagan – an absolute work of art.
Act III ‘Passionella’ is the final grand crescendo to the triptych playlets and is based on Jules Feiffer’s ‘Passionella’. Michaela Cartmell plays the role of Ella, a chimney sweep who yearns to become a movie star. “People who know me keep sending soap,” she sings. Every musical number in this Act is catchy but don’t get caught singing ‘Gorgeous’ on the bus after the show. Michaela Cartmell gives a heartfelt performance as naïve, starstruck Ella, only to crash back down to earth in a blaze of soot. Xandy Champken is suitably dashing as Flip Charming who catches the eye of Ella. Champken portrays Charming as an Elvis figure and certainly has all the dance moves. Adam Corrigan gives a wonderful performance as Producer and Mr Fallible.
Casting Director Benjamin Newsome has once again succeeded in bringing new, diverse talent to the Off-West End theatre. The superb, slick direction by Brendan Matthew, sparkling choreography from Chris Whittaker and exquisite costume design by Joana Dias has breathed new life into this 1960s gem.
All Star Productions continues to pick musicals that pay tribute to the work of Broadway writers and re-create the whole spectacle of Broadway shows without having the budget. Over the years All Star Productions has produced a number of successful shows, including the sensational award-winning ‘Flora The Red Menace’ starring Katy Baker who won the Off-West End Award for Best Female.
‘The Apple Tree’ is one of the most refreshing, entertaining productions I’ve seen in a long while and deserves a much longer run. Absolute value for money. Don’t miss this one!
Get your tickets online at: http://www.allstarproductions.ticketsource.co.uk/ or call: 0843 289 2144
Address: 53 Hoe Street, Walthamstow, London E17 4SA
Olde Rose and Crown Theatre and Pub Link: http://www.yeolderoseandcrowntheatrepub.co.uk/index.php/in-the-theatre/