November 7, 2010

The Best Of All Possible Worlds



My only exposure to Candide is the concert version with Kristin Chenoweth and Patti Lupone that was broadcasted as part of PBS Great Performances. I enjoyed Leonard Bernstein's music then so when the Goodman Theatre announced that they were mounting Candide, I was really curious to see it live. This production of Candide is a joint project by the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and the Shakespeare Theatre Company in DC and is adapted and directed by Mary Zimmerman.

Candide is a comedy based on the book by Voltaire. It's a story of chance and mischance. Candide is a young man and an illegitimate relative of a Barron in a place called Westphalia. He was brought up with his rich relatives, the Barron's family, where he spent most of his time with Cunegonde, the Barron's daughter. They both study under their tutor Dr. Pangloss who believes that Westphalia is the best possible place on earth. Things change drastically in Candide's life when he and Cunegonde declare their love for each other. His relatives throws him out and he now has to find his way in the world. What follows is Candide's adventure to reconnect with Cunegonde who's life has also changed severely after Candide's departure. In spite of all of these events, Candide remained the constant optimist.

It has to be mentioned that in this story, there are so may terrible things that happen to the characters but the story is told in a very funny and absurd manner making it actually light and enjoyable. Indeed, not a Debbie Downer! I do have to say that this production is long. And you feel it all the more in the second Act when Candide wanders through different lands trying to find his way back to Cunegonde. As an audience member you commiserate with him when his journey is stretched out by various turn of events. I found myself wondering whether he was ever going to find her again! And I already knew how this musical ended!

Geoff Packard (Broadway's Rock of Ages) played Candide with hopefulness and naivete very fitting for the character. Lauren Molina (also from Rock of Ages) played Cunegonde and her voice is as lovely as when I saw her play Johanna in John Doyle's Sweeney Todd. She was seductive and piquant but also portrayed the tragic really well towards the end that I found myself very moved. Hollis Resnik was hilarious as the Old Woman as well as Erik Lochtefeld who played Maximilian, Cunegonde's brother.

The stage for this show is very sparse with oak paneled walls surrounding the stage. Parts of the walls would open and close when characters would enter or props would come in. The wood panel envelops this world which is created on stage. Mary Zimmerman's staging of the show is very, very interesting. It's full of imagery and good old fashioned stagecraft that makes it so creative. Imagine, so many major events happening (eg. earthquake, war) with no special effects but only theatrical stagecraft! It's rare you see that these days. For instance, the war scene, Ms. Zimmerman had her actors wearing opposing military regalia tossing balls that looked like cannon balls across the stage as if they were playing dodge ball. To show how much lives were lost during the war, actors in uniform would pour out toy soldiers from a bucket onto another bucket. It's very simple yet, so deft. There are so many more scenes where the staging is cleverly done throughout the play and they just added playfulness to this comedic story. I truly enjoyed it.

Candide just ended it's run here in Chicago last Sunday, Oct. 31 but for those in the DC area, the show plays at Shakespeare Theatre Company from Nov. 26, 2010 to Jan. 9, 2011. For more information, please click here.

Here are some photos:





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