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UD Drama Professor Directs Musical Based on Iliad, Odyssey for Lyric Stage

UD Drama Professor Directs Musical Based on Iliad, Odyssey for Lyric Stage

The Golden AppleIn March 2014, Assistant Professor of Drama Stefan Novinski, BA '92, got a call from Dallas County's Lyric Stage founding producer, Steven Jones, to ask whether Novinski would be interested in directing a production of the musical "The Golden Apple," which will run at the Irving Arts Center Oct. 24 through Nov. 2.

Created by composer/lyricist team Jerome Moross and John Latouche, "The Golden Apple" was first produced 60 years ago. Though critically acclaimed across the board, audiences of the 1950s didn't quite know what to make of this 20th century take on the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey," because it didn't look like the musicals they knew and loved. In 1954, it became the first off-Broadway show to win the Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical, but it closed after only 125 performances and has been rarely seen since.

Novinski wasn't familiar with "The Golden Apple" until he got the call from Jones, but as soon as he learned more about it, he wanted to ask, "Do you have any idea how perfect I am for this job?"

As both a UD faculty member and an alumnus, Novinski obviously refers to the central role the Homeric epics play in UD's Core curriculum.

"The Golden Apple" is set in the Pacific Northwest and takes place right after the Spanish-American War. Ulysses, returning home from fighting, must gather his men and go after Helen (a farmer's daughter and the wife of the local sheriff, Menelaus), who ran off with a traveling salesman by the name of Paris. Ulysses doesn't make it back to his wife, Penelope, for several years.

"It's such a UD piece," Novinski said. "I'm really excited for the UD crowd to see it. It's a wonderful exploration of the 'Iliad' and the 'Odyssey' as seen through the lens of the American musical."

"The Golden Apple" is not a simple piece to produce, which is probably the main reason it has been done so sporadically in the course of six decades. It requires a 36-piece orchestra and a cast of 43 singers.

"We immediately went into auditions," Novinski said. "Lyric Stage is known nationally for the quality of its voices onstage, and we obviously had to live up to that reputation. Which we will: this is an incredible cast."

Novinski and his wife, set designer Donna Marquet, teamed up to create a "vaudeville" look for the show, with footlights, a grand drape and painted scenery. They found inspiration in brightly colored fruit-crate labels from different states.

"This vision of Americana fits the tone of the musical," said Novinski. "It's a sense of nostalgia for all things old. The combination of the fruit crate labels and vaudeville represents the wide variety of musical styles in the piece, which range from Gilbert and Sullivan to ragtime."

Novinski's drama students at UD have benefited from his role as director of "The Golden Apple;" they have been able to attend rehearsals and see the process.

"This is very important for drama majors, to be able to come into a professional theater behind the scenes and see how it works -- it's been an extraordinary opportunity for them to see this musical come together," said Novinski.

He notes that the students witnessed some rehearsals in which things weren't going smoothly, and that was good for them, too.

"They were able to see that it's not always perfect when you're making it," Novinski said.

Novinski urges the UD community to try to make it out to see "The Golden Apple."

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he said.

For more information and tickets, please visit the Lyric Stage website.

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