The Encores! series at New York’s City Center has been one of the bright spots on my calendar for well over a decade now. They unearth underappreciated musicals, restore their orchestrations, hire ridiculously talented actors (it’s only a two-week commitment), and set them loose. But Encores! had a surprise for me this week: they dedicated their production of The Golden Apple to the memory of an old friend of mine who passed away about 18 months ago.
“Old friend” not in the sense of Sondheim’s “Old Friends” from Merrily We Roll Along, a crew that navigated post-adolescence together and kept turning up in each others’ lives through the bitterness of middle age. Lex Kaplen and I were grammar school classmates; we might easily have never seen each other after sixth grade. But he went to law school with one of my best friends from high school and eventually she brought him to see me sing and we reconnected through email. Then he was gone, heart attack. His post-collegiate employer The New Yorker ran a lovely piece, which I somehow managed to miss. I didn’t learn of his death until after his memorial service, when our mutual friend emailed me about it.
The Golden Apple and apple trees
Lex popped into my life randomly when he was alive; now he has popped in randomly in death. And as I sat there watching the show performed in his memory, a bunch of questions crowded into my brain.
Encores! has done six shows since he passed; why did they choose The Golden Apple to dedicate to him? Was he a rabid fan of this mid-century cult classic? What involvement did he have with Encores!? And why did we never talk about it? Clearly we had much more in common than the school song we could probably both sing in our sleep. Ha! That song was “The Apple Tree” (music and lyrics by our beloved hippie music teacher Ann Crawford)—a resonance that only just occurred to me.
I enjoyed the lush orchestrations and glorious harmonies of the Jerome Moross score. And the surely career-making performance of ingénue Mikaela Bennett, who has not yet graduated from Juilliard. But as the actors succumbed to various deaths, most of them staged for comic effect, I found myself thinking about the real thing. Which is not so funny. Even when the deceased is only a tangential part of your life.
And so your “Song for a Sunday” this week. I wanted to find you “Going Home Together,” the lovely finale of The Golden Apple, but the original cast recording pales in comparison to what I heard onstage this week. So here’s the promo video for the Encores! production. You’ll hear a bit of “Going Home Together” at the 1:35 mark. Enjoy.