For anyone who believes that the frequent appearance of Eris in popular entertainment is a recent phenomenon, I present to you the fact that in 1954 there was a hit Broadway play of an unmistakeably Discordian nature.
In those ancient days (the ’50s, I mean), times were very different. Men were men, women were women, and golden apples were golden apples. People spoke from the heart and told it like it really was. So when slightly effeminate men reinterpreted the myth of the golden apple for Broadway, they didn’t feel the need to snub Eris again by leaving her out of the story. Unlike some entertainment megacorporations I could mention.
The ever-wise and watchful Pope Waxy Saint Clover of Beefy Pilliation has honored that time by donating the soundtrack of that play to the BBC (No Relation) art museum. It is valuable proof that I’m not lying.
Well, I’m not lying much.
The Golden Apple is real. It opened on March 11, 1954 at the Phoenix Theatre, an off-Broadway venue. It was the first off-Broadway play to win the Best New Musical award from the New York Drama Critics Circle. It produced one hit song, Lazy Afternoon and one almost-hit song, Goona-Goona. Off-Broadway audiences loved the show and eagerly packed the Phoenix. After six weeks (a week too long), it moved to Broadway’s Alvin Theatre and ran there for 16 weeks. It received raves and was widely considered to be one of the best of Broadway musicals.
But it flopped on Broadway anyhow. One modern-day critic said
Why? Too cerebral/arty, some speculated. Audiences were supposedly put off by the classical underpinnings of the show. Maybe they didn’t come because the show had no dialogue–it wasn’t sung-through or recitative, just sung, and it may have smelled of opera at a time when opera and operetta were out of fashion on Broadway. Maybe it was because there were no superstars among the cast, though there were a lot of sturdy performers. Maybe the stars were out of alignment. Who knows? Ultimately, no one is really sure why it tanked.
Maybe Eris was simply in a pissy mood. We’ll never know for sure. Nor will we know what it was like to be one of the lucky ones to see this fabulous production. The story itself is a twist on the original. Instead of ancient Greece, it takes place in the state of Washington (they grow apples there, get it?) Instead of judging a beauty contest, Paris judges a cooking contest. It was, at the time, completely modernated. Perhaps that was its downfall. If you weren’t familiar with the original myth, you’d miss the joke. Speaking of jokes, the music is packed full of them in grand Discordian tradition. Almost everything in the play is a joke of some sort, from the names and occupations of the characters to the fact that every line — and probably every note — has a double-meaning of some kind.
Here’s a plot synopsis, which is as close as we’re likely to get to seeing the play itself. Unless some thespian Erisians out there decide to have a revival.
This musical was based on the Iliad and the Odyssey. The story has been transplanted to the town of Angel’s Roost, Washington, at the foot of Mt. Olympus just after the Spanish-American war. Adventure-loving Ulysses and his men return triumphant to their various women, including Ulysses’s wife Penelope and Helen, a young woman married to the old Sheriff Menelaus. In honor of the returning soldiers, the townsfolk organize a fair, in which there will be a baking competition. Old Mother Hare, who supplies the women with herbs and prophecies, is left out of the festivities, but she shows up anyway. She has an apple made of gold wire that she will award to the best baker. Three important townswomen, Miss Minerva, Mrs. Juniper, and Lovey Mars, elect the balloon-riding traveling salesman, Paris, to judge the contest, then promptly try to influence his vote. Lovey Mars wins because she promises him Helen. Soon Paris and Helen are wafting away to Rhododendron, the big city, as Mother Hare gleefully waves goodbye. Although Ulysses had promised Penelope that he’d stay home for a change, he immediately gathers his men and goes off to retrieve Helen.
Helen is the toast of Rhododendron for a while, until the Angel’s Roost men show up and take over. Ulysses bundles her back off to Menelaus, but he and his men want to see the big city before they return. The Rhododendron mayor Hector sees this as his chance for revenge against the conquerors. Their “late-night bender” lasts 10 years, and his men vanish one by one into the maw of the city and its sinful inhabitants: Calypso (a nymph/social climber), Scylla and Charybdis (greedy stockbrokers), the Sirens (prostitutes), a crazy lady scientist who shoots men into space but can’t get them back, and Circe (a magician’s lady sidekick). Ulysses’s last hero, Achilles, intercepts a knife aimed at him by Paris, leaving the commander the sole survivor. He does some soul-searching and returns to Penelope, who is none too pleased with him after his ten-year absence. However, he convinces her that he is staying for good this time.
At least we have the soundtrack now. And what does it sound like? Hear for yourself, as long as you don’t mind downloading 5 megs or so of this cut: The Judgement of Paris. If you’re so inclined, you can also buy your own copy.
Note that not only was the legend Kaye Ballard in the cast, it was her very first Broadway show. She played Helen. While a beautiful woman, Kaye isn’t near the required 1000 millihelen threshold. Fortunately, that’s not a problem in this adaptation: Helen is not famous for her beauty here, but for her sluttiness.