Light Opera Works Revives 'Candide'
To close their second season (and open a new year), Light Opera Works revived the much-honored Leonard Bernstein-Richard Wilbur Candide, a honey of a work perfect for a thinking musical comedy buff. Director Philip Kraus combined elements from the ill-fated 1956 version (script by Lillian Hellman) and Harold Prince's jazzed-up 1973 revision (with a script by Hugh Wheeler) to create a sturdy vehicle for the graceful talents of Elizabeth Gottlieb (as Cunegonde) and David Huff (as Candide).
But the show demands to be stolen by the Voltaire-Pangloss preacher of mindless optimism - and it was. The versatile comic actor Bill Wronski kept sharpening the satire on his own wits and, whenever he wasn't there to spark things, the excellent Marcy Weckler made the Old Lady who lost one buttock a non-stop comic delight.
'Candide' on target in Evanston
John Von Rhein
Light Opera Works unwrapped a New Year's present to the North Shore Saturday night in Evanston's Cahn Auditorium. The bright package contained Leonard Bernstein's "Candide," and if the youthful performers, under Philip Kraus' direction, sometimes tended to let their enthusiasm literally run away with the show, they managed to keep on satiric target for the better part of the nearly three-hour performance.
This is hardly the occasion to revive the old debate otter whether "Candide" is truly an opera, a musical comedy, an operetta or an amalgam of all three. Suffice it'to say that Kraus and company saw fit to cast local singers of operatic aspiration in the leading roles and to restore four numbers that had been cut from the Chelsea Theater Center version that opened on Broadway in 1973.
Kraus is clearly familiar with Harold Prince's staging for the Chelsea Theater, but where the Broadway audience was made part of the theatrical fun, Kraus of necessity blocked the show within a conventional proscenium, doing so with a few typically campy touches of his own. Kraus had the singers slide down ramps, gallop up stairs, prance in the aisles. Set pieces rolled on and off from the wings. John Rodriguez' set, Mark Mongold's lighting and Kerry Fleming's costumes understood that less is often more.
Of course, "Candide" is a joyously picaresque sendup [after Voltaire] of the historical fallacy that everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds, even if that world, at the final curtain, turns out to be good old Rockford, Ill. Recounting the characters' improbable adventures was William T. Wronski as Voltaire/Dr. Pangloss, who in voice and timing brought a sly sense of self-mockery to his every impersonation..
Elizabeth Gottlieb coped easily and prettily with the canarylike tessitura of Cunegonde, and Marcy Anthonny Weckler, as the Old Lady with the unfortunate posterior, served up her outrageous ethnic caricature with obvious relish. Weckler is around mainly as a punch line for the show's central vulgar joke. which is the repeated ravishment of women.
David Huff made a likeable, unquenchably cheerful Candide...Kerry Thompson's Paquette was such a winsome blonde baggage that it seemed rather a shame she wasn't cast as Candide's lady love.
It may not have been the best of all possible worlds Friday at Evanston's Cahn Auditorium, but it wasn't a bad way to begin the theatrical year. So, here's a toast to the folks at Light Opera Works and their production of "Candide." May they keep working through 1983 and beyond.
One of the young company's consistent strengths has been in programming. Leonard Bernstein's musical romp through the bawdy and irreverent landscape of Voltaire is so rarely performed that it would be a pleasure to see it anytime. It was a particularly bubbly choice for the New Year weekend. And, in case you like to play "Can You Top This?" "Naughty Marietta" is planned for same time next year.
The young lovers, David Huff as the doltish Candide and Elizabeth Gottlieb
as his soiled Westphalian flower, were attractive enough, with Gottlieb's enthusiasm making up for her high notes in the show-stopping "Glitter and Be Gay." Nat Chandler was a winning Maximilian and Kerry Thompson made a pretty Paquette.
But the spotlight belonged to talented William Wronski as Dr. Pangloss/Voltaire and to Marcy Anthony Weckler as the querulous Old Lady who has only half a backside on which to sit and complain. Wronski, who sailed away with last year's "H.M.S. Pinafore," was perfect in his dual role. A true comic and a fine singer, he seasoned his performance with just the right taste of Westphalian ham. A little hammier, but just as delicious, was Weckler, her heavy accent cutting through some of the funniest lines in the script.
Also excellent was Darrell Rowader, playing an assortment of tyrannical rulers encountered by the bedraggled crew.
Some 22 rapid scene changes were accomplished with wit and panache, with a couple of notable sight gags dropping down from the flies. Supporting singers and chorus were exceptionally good.
'Candide' a delight
Robert C. Marsh
Voltaire's "Candide" is a short, satirical novel about the problem of evil. It takes a Leonard Bernstein to see that as a subject for a Broadway show, and it took a Harold Prince to make it a success. That happened in 1973, 17 years after the original version closed after some 70 performances. In October Prince took the work to the New York City Opera in a second new version intended for presentation in opera houses and won another success for himself.
The production by Light Opera Works which opened at Cahn Auditorium in Evanston Thursday is more in debt to Prince's 1973 version than the new one, although it restores material that was cut in that staging and restored in the 1982 edition. But Light Opera Works does not have the resources or the budget to rival either of Prince's shows.
"Candide" is receiving what I take to be its first local staging in an effective, well-intended presentation that delights but does not dazzle. The cast---a huge one—is full of talented young people. The simple set by John Rodriguez looks good and is effectively used, and the direction, by Philip A. Kraus, is always tasteful and appropriate.
The best acting and singing job came from William T. Wronski as the narrator and various philosophers. He belongs on Broadway. Marcy A. Weckler, as an old lady who has seen too much of the world easily stole every scene she was in. David Huff and Elizabeth Gottlieb, as Candide and his beloved Cu.negonde, did nicely enough, however, when they had the stage to themselves. They played the two characters with understanding and a nice, light comic touch.
The rest of the cast, furiously changing costumes and roles, kept things busy for all.