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A 1950s advertisement for Lucky Leaf Pie Filling. (alsis35/Flickr Creative Commons)

The plot of The Golden Apple hinges on a cutthroat pie-baking contest. Now that the classic 1954 musical is returning to New York, we asked Sadie Stein to tell us about the rise and fall of a decadent American pastime.

“Pie may just be the Madonna-whore of the dessert world.” So writes Pascale Le Draoulec in his American Pie: Slices of Life (and Pie) from America’s Back Roads. And if this is true, what does this make the pie-baking contest, if not a pageant of the most retrograde and problematic kind, “Toddlers & Tiaras” in a double-crust? We won’t even get into pie-eating contests; the implications are too disturbing. But the stakes, as Jerome Moross and John Latouche understood, have always been Mythological.

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April 28, 2017 by New York City Center

John Latouche in 1940. (John Rawlings/Condé Nast via Getty Images)

Gore Vidal called him “an extraordinary genius of the same rank as Sondheim.” Dawn Powell wrote, “He is so multi-gifted that he seems to leave people as worn as if they’d been to a circus, and while he shoots sparks in all directions, in the end it is the others who are depleted and he is renourished.” The man in question was John Latouche, a near-mythic New Yorker who napped in bathtubs, threw séances, consumed Four Roses bourbon by the bottle, and contributed brilliantined lyrics to Cabin in the Sky, The Ballad of Baby Doe, and Candide before his death at the age of 41. A biography, Howard Pollack’s The Ballad of John Latouche, will be published this fall; for now, here’s Latouche explaining how the seeds were planted for The Golden Apple, which is returning to New York in an Encores! revival.

I set out to tell the stories of Ulysses and Penelope, Paris and Helen, as they would have happened in America. It was to be no adaptation of Homeric grandeurs, but a comic reflection of classical influence on the way we think nowadays. Therefore any myths we might use were to arise out of our native songs, dances, jokes, and ideas.

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April 25, 2017 by New York City Center

William and Jean Eckart’s design for the original show curtain of The Golden Apple. (Reprinted from Andrew B. Harris’ Golden Pen Award-winning book The Performing Set: The Broadway Designs of William and Jean Eckart)

By 1955, people were already lying about having seen The Golden Apple. To have caught the show was a mark of erudition, a sort of homosexual epaulet. The writer James McCourt included the musical on his “free-association ‘50s queer syllabus” alongside Allen Ginsberg, Eartha Kitt, Rancho Notorious, and Captain Marvel. To be counted among New York’s gay elite, he explained, “You had to know the lyrics to all the songs.”

Dubbed “an instantaneous cult item” by the Daily News, the musical’s legend has only grown since the 1950s. True believers covet The Golden Apple; they “guard” it, to borrow the lingo of one Facebook fan page. The show seems fragile, somehow, too divinely sophisticated to survive in the world.

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April 13, 2017 by New York City Center

Elisabeth Welch in 1933. (courtesy Stephen Bourne)

Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” isn’t just a song: it’s a tempest in 64 bars, and the scandal that erupted following its 1930 debut in The New Yorkers offers a fascinating glimpse at Depression-era beliefs about race, censorship, and morality. The singer Elisabeth Welch didn’t just have a front-row seat to the controversy—she was onstage (and wearing a killer marabou stole to boot). Near the end of her life, Welch shared her memories with biographer Stephen Bourne.

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March 20, 2017 by New York City Center

Later this month, Cole Porter’s madcap Prohibition musical The New Yorkers will return to its eponymous city for the first time in nearly 90 years. We asked Encores! artistic director Jack Viertel to explain how the show was brought back to life.

In the autumn of 2001, Encores! presented a concert called the “Broadway Bash.” The highlight turned out to be Donna Murphy’s rendition of “I Happen to Like New York,” from Cole Porter’s 1930 musical The New Yorkers. Though I knew the song, I’d never heard of The New Yorkers. But the impact of that performance (it was only a few weeks after New York had been brutally attacked on September 11 and the song exerted a powerful emotional pull) sent me on a hunt. What was this little-known, moderately successful, largely mysterious Depression-era show?

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March 3, 2017 by New York City Center
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