Friday, May 28, 2010

Candide - The 5th Avenue Theatre

5th Avenue Theatre
May 25 – June 13, 2010
Tickets and Information

Leonard Bernstein's musical version of Voltaire's satire has had a long and varied history; its book has been written, re-written, revised and updated since its 1956 debut, in myriad attempts to make a book that matches Bernstein's witty and soaring score. This version is the 1999 adaptation with a book by John Caird, which director David Armstrong believes is the best balance of each part of the show; and indeed, watching the 5th Ave's production, it is easy to agree.

Armstrong's direction lets Bernstein's score lead the way, and in the capable voices of the cast the story unfolds. Veteran Seattle actor David Pichette portrays Voltaire himself, narrating and shaping Candide's story throughout the musical, with a spry sense of humor and unflagging energy. Candide (played with boyish charm and sincerity by Stanley Bahorek) lives in the “best of all possible castles” in the province of Westphalia, in love with the princess Cunegonde (the liquid-voiced Laura Griffith) and tutored in the philosophy of Optimism by Dr. Pangloss (also David Pichette, who easily slips in and out of the two roles).

Cunegonde (Laura Griffith), Voltaire (David Pichette) and Candide (Stanley Bahorek.)
Photo by Curt Doughty.

Pangloss' philosophy of Optimism holds that this world, by logic, must be the best of all possible worlds, and nothing could be better than what it is already. Nearly instantly, this philosophy is tested when the Baron of Westphalia kicks Candide out of the castle to wander in the snow. Candide's harsh entry to the world outside Westphalia, his madcap adventures across the globe, his over-the-top encounters with suffering and everyone he meets eventually cause him to create his own philosophy, a surprisingly uplifting ending to Voltaire's snappy satire. However, that satire is present throughout and offers fodder for both beautiful music—such as Griffith's operatic turn in “Glitter and be Gay”—and comic acting, such as Anne Allgood's darkly hilarious story of her character's long and completely ridiculous suffering. Every actor takes on Bernstein's notoriously difficult music and masters it beautifully, particularly in the large ensemble choral moments, as well as giving Caird's book the justice it deserves.

Matthew Smucker's set provides strong lines and simple but versatile spaces, framing the story well for the actors and for Tom Sturge's light design. Ken Travis' sound design meshed easily with the orchestration, and Lynda L Salsbury's costumes managed to portray myriad countries and styles while staying consistent throughout.

Candide is not a fluffy, easy show—either for the performers, or the audience. Bernstein's score is full of clever lyrics and twisting music, and the subject matter as well as the storyline demands intellectual participation from the listeners. However, this production is well worth it; an audience member who offers time and attention to this sparkling and legendary musical will be well rewarded.

Review by Kenna M Kettrick

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