Review by Paul Nelson
IN SPITE of what on paper looks like a dream team, music by Leonard
Bernstein, book by Lillian Hellman, lyrics by Richard Wilbur,
John Latouche, Dorothy Parker and Hellman and the whole directed
by Tyrone Guthrie, Candide originally lasted for only 73
performances. That was in 1956.
For devotees of Bernstein the show immediately became a collectors'
item. After all, it starred luminaries of the likes of Barbara
Cook, Robert Rounseville and the incomparable Max Adrian. Its
London production three years or so later fared just as badly,
60 performances. That, you would have thought, was that.
The musical has, however, stirred hearts on both sides of the
Atlantic. It has its fans and those who denigrate it.
Of the former, we must assume Stephen Sondheim to be one, for
almost 20 years after the initial debacle, along came a new version
with even more glittering additives, Sondheim adding new lyrics
and Hugh Wheeler providing a revamped book. The revival fared
better, running to over 700 performances, not bad considering
the subject matter vis-à-vis that the average Broadway
musical audience consists of teamsters and their wives after the
cognocenti have finished with it.
The fact that it still doesn't work is currently apparent at
Richmond Theatre and shortly to be seen at Bromley, Basingstoke,
Salisbury, Brighton, Poole and Buxton.
The book attempts to take in a too broad canvas and not everyone
is au fait with pastiche operetta. As performed by The Opera Group
the performance commits the cardinal sin of forgetting that it
is primarily a Broadway show.
The singers give true vent to the notes they sing, that is to
be applauded, however, as with most opera singers the unsafe knowledge
that audiences are well aware of the lyrics causes them to concentrate
on getting the notes right.
Used as I am to the score, I found difficulty following the words,
in particular with the added numbers by Sondheim (I possess recordings
of both versions of the show by the way, so I am not so deeply
lost in the wilderness).
However, I am at a loss to understand why the splendid overture
was turned into underscoring for some crass 'comic' business by
an incompetent stage manager setting and resetting the props and
furniture on stage. That stage manager turned out to be Simon
Butteriss, who plays Voltaire/Pangloss etc., and the comic business
won no hearts.
The evening regresses with further examples of heavy-handedness,
perhaps the worst being realised in 'Glitter and Be Gay',
the delightful pastiche of a jewel song, which is sung by an unattractive
Cunegonde performing acts of sado-masochism on her two time-share
lovers and ending with her illustrating her ultimate top note
by seizing the men's testes. I would have thought it would be
they who hit the high note.
Unfortunately, this lost opportunities vein continues, but the
main complaint I and other members of the audience voiced, was
that the company lost sight of two facts.
Originally, it was designated 'a comic operetta' and, this second
point being most heinous, the director and company forgot that
they were first and foremost presenting a Broadway show.
The reverence they and some members of the audience afforded
the evening was misplaced in my view. It is a great shame. My
eager anticipation to see and enjoy the piece was perhaps too
intense. Better to travel hopefully than to arrive.
Candide. Book adapted from Voltaire by Richard Wilbur in a
new version by Hugh Wheeler, Music by Leonard Bernstein, Lyrics
by Richard Wilbur, Stephen Sondheim, John Latouche, Lillian Hellman,
Dorothy Parker and Leonard Bernstein, Directed by John Fulljames,
Design by Alex Lowde, Lighting Jon Buswell, Choreographer Maxine
Braham, Musical Director Patrick Bailey. WITH: Simon Butteriss
(Voltaire/Pangloss), Daniel Hoadley (Candide), Donna Bateman (Cunegonde),
Jill Pert (Old Lady), Paul Featherstone (Inquisitor/Governor),
and Giles Davis, Devon Harrison, Andy McWilliams, Charlotte Page,
Sarah Parry, Michael Robinson, Saffron van Zwanenberg. Produced
by The Opera Group and presented by arrangement with Joseph Weinberger
Ltd on behalf of Music Theatre International New York.