Preview by Paul Nelson
LET me tell you about The Apple Tree.
The show was the first reunion of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, long revered for their earlier collaborations, after their blockbuster, Fiddler on the Roof.
Their beautiful She Loves Me, an unashamed romantic musical comedy, paved the way to their immense success with Fiddler, but they returned to the comic and romantic with their musical comedy, accent on comedy, The Apple Tree.
The Apple Tree is a trilogy. With tongue in cheek, it explains to mere mortal man just how much he owes to the little woman. And in some cases how much he is dominated by her.
The book (Bock, Harnick, and Jerome Coopersmith) pulls no punches.
Poor old dim Adam is manipulated by the love of his life even to the point where he loses Eden; sad Captain Sanjar, wildly in love with Princess Barbara, has to face alone a choice to which his love denies him the answer; and finally with little Ella, the chimney sweep, he is brought face to face with true, no frills, love.
The show is sublime.
The first I heard about it was in 1966 when a friend of mine returned from New York babbling about it.
In the years following the opening of Fiddler on the Roof, I waited in vain. With over 20 musicals following Fiddler in the next three years, which included Hair, Promises Promises and Sweet Charity, I waited and waited and so on. It never came and so I inconsolably settled for the fact I would never see it.
Now let me tell you about The Apple Tree at the Landor.
Varying not a jot from the original, Linda Edwards' production of it relies heavily on her artistic associate, the director Robert McWhir.
Together they have realised the production, and from God knows where have assembled a cast you simply will not see anywhere else. I cannot think of a single West End show that has such a dedicated and exciting gang of performers from the one-line chorines to the major roles.
The sheer joy of the first segment, The Diary of Adam and Eve, is transmitted with ease by the two leading actors, Graham Dalton and Suzanne Toase, not forgetting the excellent Snake of Ian Dring.
This is a comic and sentimental look at the joining together of a man and woman who have really very little in common, almost like an arranged marriage. The backwoodsman doesn't really need his wallpaper changed, does he? He wants a house painted brown. She wants flowers and children. In the end of course, she becomes indispensable. This is the weepy part of the programme, and we wept.
The Lady or the Tiger presents the two in an entirely different light. She, Barbara, the omnipotent princess, he Sanjar, the successful general and her lover, that is until her father finds out.
Daddy has a neat trick in the arena. By your own choice, you are condemned or freed. You are given the odds, you make your decision as to which door you choose, you either die by a hungry man eating tiger or live forever in bliss with a comely maiden.
What could be more simple, or more agonising for the princess who finds out the lady opposite the tiger is Nadjira, her rival for the affections of Sanjar. What is she to do? Let him be eaten or let him go and live forever with her handmaiden? What would you choose?
Finally, you are shown the adventures of Ella, a lady chimney sweep with a filthy cold. What Ella wants is not too much to ask. She simply wants to be a beautiful, glamorous, radiant, ravishing movie star. Her good fairy, and we all have one, makes this occur but only between the hours of the end of the seven o'clock news and the end of the late night movie.
All night she is Passionella, travelling on the subway, the world thinks she must be an Underground Movie star. Dissatisfied with her lot she breaks the glamour mould and elects to play a chimney sweep, during the filming she will sweep the chimneys herself, no stand ins!
The world goes bonkers.
However, she meets and is bowled over by Flip, a pop star, and he tells her she is not real.
In their realisation of each other, like Adam and Eve, like Sanjar and Barbara, Flip and Ella become what we all are. Just him and her.
The realisation of this musical play is a triumph for director McWhir. Using the orchestra (note they do not rely on music stands, they know the score) and the rest of the company, the whole of New York and a barbarian ancient country are recreated with such élan it will take away your breath.
The principals are sensational; you will go a long way before you will find a more attractive and charming Adam/Sanjar/Flip. Add to him another trio triumphant in the Snake/King Arik/Narrator, the Balladeer, and the too beautiful for her own good Nadjira.
Before I forget, and anyone who was present on the first night will realise what I say is true, may I modestly claim that as well as seeing a show I have been longing for, I was present at the birth of a star.
Suzanne Toase can sing, belt, hum a lullaby, dance, act and above all charm to the point of insanity any audience she chooses so to do.
The parts she plays, Eve, Barbara and Ella separately are enough to tax the talents of any actress. To walk over all three, and at the same time walk over everyone in the house, and I am not kidding, is an achievement that needs to be shouted from the rooftops. This kid has got it and she has got it in gold and diamonds.
The next time I see her I fully expect to be held at arms length by a series of heavies and faceless people who will deny me access to this divinity. While you have the chance, go and see her now. She has got to be the most exciting thing in the whole of the metropolis. It don't happen often but when it do, you damn well know it. Here she is folks, let's hear it for your next piece of stunning brilliance, Suzanne Toase.
The Apple Tree, Book Music and Lyrics by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick with additional material by Jerome Coopersmith, based on stories by Mark Twain, Frank R Stockton and Jules Feiffer. Directed by Robert McWhir, Musical Director Paul Harvard, Musical Staging John Stacey, Settings Rachel Baynton, Costumes Jo Sharp, Lighting Sara Wood, Casting Director Shirley Jeece, Stage Manager Jim Woods. WITH: Graham Dalton (Adam, Sanjar, Flip), Suzanne Toase (Eve, Barbara, Passionella), Ian Dring (Snake, King Arik, Narrator), Christopher Stewart (Balladeer), David Craik (Prisoner, Mr Fallible, Producer), Lucy Thatcher (Nadjira), Sue Appleby (flute), Michael Kantola (guitar/accordion), Michelle Long (violin), Callum McIntosh, Danielle Marks, Lorna-Marie Moore (clarinet, saxophone), Natalie Moss (keyboards), Jessica Williams. Produced by Linda Edwards and Robert McWhir for The Landor Theatre at The Landor Theatre, 70 Landor Road, Clapham North, London SW9. Tickets 020 7737 7276.
GUIDE TO PICTURES: The pictures feature Suzanne Toase with various cast members in The Apple Tree.
RELATED LINKS: Click here for the Landor Theatre website...