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A Candide view of a problematic revival



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.

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