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Tuesday
Nov112008

The Apple Sisters FinaleBy: Keith Huang

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SO LONG, NEW YORK CITY! "There is definitely something magical about the girls and the people they've surrounded themselves with that seems to always make the show a success (even when it's a clusterfuck)." --Andy Costello

Like all things good, sweet and delicious, The Apple Sisters must come to an end. On Tuesday, comedy all-star Kimmy Gatewood (Cora Apple) heads to Los Angeles, while prankster and improv expert Rebekka Johnson (Candy Apple) will follow suit in February. Sarah Lowe (Seedy Apple) left last month to perform in the Las Vegas production of "Jersey Boys."

A teary Kimmy Gatewood at the final Apple Sisters show at The PIT
Photo by Keith Huang

Since February 2007, The Apiary has watched the Sisters rise in the New York sketch-comedy scene, and we were there when they won the 2007 ECNY award for Best Musical Comedy Act. And while we're sad to see them go, we understand the importance of seeking new opportunities.

So to celebrate The Apple Sisters' commencement and to take a look back at the fun (and messy) times, The Apiary turned to the lesser-known, but equally important, group of gentlemen we're calling "The Apple Brothers" -- Andy Costello, Andy Hertz, Tom Ridgely and Jeff Solomon.

These four lads worked behind-the-scenes -- and behind the piano -- to help stage more than a dozen different Apple Sisters shows and to help them put their trademark Apple-shine on each and every performance.

ANDY COSTELLO, Assistant Director

How would you describe the time you have spent working with The Apple Sisters?
I've been working with the Apple Sisters for about a year now and watching them put together a show: write the script, the lyrics and music, choreograph the dances -- sometimes in just a matter of a week -- has been some of the most fun I've ever had.

Andy Costello & Kimmy Gatewood
Photo by Keith Huang

The first show of each run often feels like one of those planes from the early 1900s that have eight wings stacked on top of one another, and bicycle wheels attached with catgut, and a hole in the bottom that the pilot's legs dangle through. You look at it and say, "That will never fly." But their shows always end up flying. There is definitely something magical about the girls and the people they've surrounded themselves with that seems to always make the show a success (even when it's a clusterfuck).
How much of Rebekka, Kimmy and Sarah's personalities are used in their characters?
Well, one time I told the girls that it was fascinating how closely their characters aligned with themselves. I said Sarah -- like Seedy -- really is very sweet, kind and nurturing. Rebekka -- like Candy -- really is fiery, feisty and mischievous. And then I said that Kimmy -- like Cora -- really is a dumb whore. And then Kimmy hit me. In reality, the girls truly possess every positive trait they exhibit on stage. And while they don't exactly share the same flaws as their characters, those flaws are certainly funhouse-mirror distortions of parts of their own personalities.

What's one of your favorite moments from any of the shows?
My favorite scripted moment was probably the song No Room at the Inn, from their Christmas show. It was an all-singing, all-dancing, re-telling of the first Christmas. It always felt like a much larger production to me then it really was. It was very funny but the singing, music, and dancing were all really good in their own right. So in that way it was a microcosm of what a great Apple Sisters show is.

And your favorite unscripted moment?
My favorite unscripted moment was their second performance at the Montreal Comedy Festival Sketch show where they charmed and improv'ed their way through a tech issue that lasted the first 3 or 4 minutes of their show. They stayed in character the whole time and completely won over what was perhaps the biggest and most influential audience they'd ever performed before.

Can you share any tips on putting on a sketch comedy show based on what you've learned from watching their shows?
I see a lot of really good sketch comedy that I almost immediately forget. What makes the Apple Sisters not only good but memorable is that they found a compelling structure for their show. But the structure isn't arbitrary. They framed the show around other things (mid-century culture, song, and dance) that they share a passion for. If you can come up with a framework that combines your love of comedy with something else you have a genuine interest in I think you not only increase your own enthusiasm for the project but you also broaden the show's appeal.

Jeff Solomon | Photo via Jeff Solomon
Photo via Jeff Solomon

JEFF SOLOMON, Music Director

The sisters wrote nearly 50 songs in less than two years. Describe the collaboration process for writing an Apple Sisters song?
First, I should mention that my stint as musical director/arranger/whatever has been relatively short. I began working with the Apples in late spring this year, so much of their catalog was already in existence, though I did get to write a couple of things with them. My major responsibility was arranging and conducting their songs for the band format they used in their "Right To Bare Charms" show, which was a great challenge and a lot of fun.

What was your method for coming up with the tunes and melodies for their songs?
As for the songs that I did collaborate on: the Apples would generally come in with lyrics written, a good idea for how they wanted the song to feel, and a general melody. My job was to flesh out the melodic idea to fit the lyrics, build the song's chorus/verses/bridges into a cohesive unit, and arrange harmonies (although they all have excellent intuition as to how the harmonies are formed and can improvise them very well). So more often than not, I was really helping them realize a vision that they were pretty sure about. In some cases, their idea was more roughly formed, and they'd want me to help create the melody and feel from the ground up, which would cause them to go back and reshape the lyrics around it, but that was rarely the case. The Apples have a very clear idea about what they want, and I had fun helping them get there.

The Stems & Jeff Solomon
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As the arranger/conductor for the band (The Stems), an added challenge was to take the feels of the pre-existing songs (many of which were written by the Apples with Andy Hertz, a great songwriter) and boil them down to their essentials, so that we could get the point across as a band without tons of prep time, since we had to put together the show pretty quickly.

Do you have a particularly favorite song from the runs?
As for favorite songs/moments - I do tend to love the songs that make the biggest messes, so Pudding and Corndy are real favorites. I also really love the Ration Fashion commercial in their new Halloween show, which uses carved pumpkins to incredible effect. It's amazing; I broke on stage and started laughing when they came out with their pumpkins. I won't say anymore, for those that haven't seen it yet (and may still have a chance to).

And do you have any favorite moment from any of the shows?
And the moment I probably remember in the most vivid detail was at their Just For Laughs showcase in Montreal, when Rebekka's wireless mic fizzled out right at the top of the show, and she found a way to work it into the show in a hilarious way that made their set that much more memorable. The Apples' ridiculous skills as improvisers is what really sets them apart; not that I have to people that, they already know.

Andy Hertz & The Apple Sisters at the ECNY Awards
Photo by Keith Huang

ANDY HERTZ, "Andy" & Music Director

In addition to musical director, how would you describe your role in the act?
I arrange the instrumental and vocal parts. I try not to tamper too much with the girls' music, just streamline it and shape it a little, and give it a 40's-ish sound. I also play the role of "Andy" in the show. They seem to think I'm really cute, and I find them very funny, although I've developed a character who seems easily disturbed by some of their antics. I express this in two ways: I make a face and I stop underscoring.

When you were first asked to join the trio, what did you know about Rebekka, Kimmy and Sarah?
I actually said no the first time I was asked to join the group, when they originally started. When their original piano player left, they asked me again and I watched some of their videos and it seemed like a great thing to do. I actually wondered why they hadn't asked me originally to do the show, but Kimmy said she did. And sure enough I have the e-mails to prove it. I had known Kimmy and Rebekka before -- we had done some corporate improv gigs together through The PIT. I met Sarah through the show.

How much did you know about the 1940s?
I know as much as your educated well-rounded person should know about the '40s. I happen to be particularly familiar with the music -- all of the standards from the American songbook and musical theatre through that period -- Cole Porter, The Gershwins, Irving Berlin, etc. I have always liked The Andrew Sisters and so I immediately understood The Apples' style of song.

When did you hit your stride working with the sisters?
I think it happened when I stopped approaching it as musical theatre and more as comedy. I've played improv piano a bunch and musical theatre a bunch, but they are complete opposites: Musical theatre is based around cues, planned entrances, memorized songs and note-for-note perfection; improv piano is exactly what it is: Making it up on the spot. Even though the shows are scripted, there is a fair amount of improv involved in the show, and I quickly realized I had to focus more on the stage than the illegible notes that I keep in my score. The first shows we did were a bit stressful for me, but after a few weeks, once I had developed a rapport with Kimmy, Sarah, and Rebekka -- and naturally Cora, Seedy, and Candy -- it was easy and fun. Our senses of humor seem to work well together.

What are your plans now that they're leaving New York?
Well, I'm mostly focused in the musical theatre world: writing, music directing, coaching, teaching, etc., so I'll continue to do that. But hopefully I'll get a chance to perform with them again in the future. They are truly, as their theme song proclaims, "Sweet and delicious."

TOM RIDGELY, Director

Tom Ridgely pre-show
Photo by Keith Huang

When you first started working with the sisters, what was your primary approach to the show?
Mostly to stay out of their way. They already had an incredible chemistry. And they were always able to generate material very quickly. All I really had to do was shape the stories a bit, help clarify the overall structures. But that's very easy when the material is strong and the performers are fearless.

What aspects of the show would you say ended up working out the best?
Starting, I think, with the November show last year, just about every new show they came up with had one impossible idea in it -- something totally unstageable. Cora stripping down to feather pasties and doing a fan dance as a turkey for FDR; Seedy leading a chorus of eight white people-- including two gay elves -- in a gospel number about dating Santa Claus; extended mini-suites of patriotic songs about how much fun war is. The fact that those ideas are so ridiculous and, from a production standpoint, so impractical is what makes them so brilliant. And of course they're always the best part of the show.

Some of the funniest moments in their shows involve improvised lines. Given the amount of material they squeeze into 50 minutes, what was the show policy on improvising?
Policy. That's a good one. Most of those moments happen for the simple reason that someone has either totally forgotten or utterly mangled one of their lines. So they'll have fun with that for a while and eventually get back on track. The good news is they're all first-rate improvisers, and that ability to turn potential problems into triumphs is one of the things that so special about them. That's what happened in Montreal; that's why they're leaving. Candy's mic cut out and they vamped hilariously until it was fixed. Next thing you know: agents, managers, L.A.

The sisters often stage arguments to much comedic effect. But have you ever witnessed a real-life argument?
Well, whenever people are incarcerated together for as long as they've been-- all the hours on the road, in the studio, in bars and coffee houses-- there's bound to be some tension. But to be perfectly honest I can't say I ever witnessed anything I could call a fight. They're pros. They realize there's no time for that. At least not in rehearsal. Plus they genuinely like each other and get along. At least from what I've seen. Now, what happens when they're alone ... only they can say. I bet the feathers really fly.

• Photos by Keith Huang. Plus, see additional photos of The Apple Sisters' final New York shows at The PIT.

Reader Comments (6)

Great interviews! I like the idea of taking your comedy to the next level by framing it around something you're really interested in.

Their style is supa old-skool, but they hit on such a wide variety of creative and amazing topics, so it doesn't limit them in any way.
November 11, 2008 | Unregistered Commentersoce
This is epic; The Apple Sisters will be missed.
November 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSteven
Definitely one of the best acts to emerge in the last couple of years. Well done, K!
November 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterEliot
Having known Sarah from The Donkey Show, it was an absolute pleasure to be able to watch her grow as a female comic and see her randomly meet up with Rebekkah, who i knew off handedly through Uprights and then as well through my voice over agency, it was such an amazing pleasure to be able to see her rock her voice out to it's full extent. Then when all three women united to form such unique, energized & spontaneous performances each month , transporting me back in time with such great moments to the likes of shows like Carol Burnett (which inspired me to go into the arts), rendering me breathless with laughter and thankful that women truly can rock out THIS DAMN GOOD!!! The Apple Sisters will be truly missed.....no! NO THEY WONT!!! CAUSE I'M GETTING MY ASS TO L.A.!! They're worth it!! Good luck ladies!
November 12, 2008 | Unregistered Commentersimona
This is like when I missed out on CBGB before it closed. Best of luck to them, and can't wait to catch them EVERYWHERE.

Let this be a lesson to all people who want to see live comedy: Go see some IMMEDIATELY before the next hot New York staple is gone.
November 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAbbi Crutchfield

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December 5, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterztreaw ztreaw

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