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a Musical
by Leonard Bernstein (music), Hugh Wheeler (book), various lyricists

COMPANY : Alliance Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Woodruff Art Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 5268

SHOWING : May 09, 2018 - May 20, 2018



The Alliance Theatre and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra are co-producing a concert staging of the Tony Award-winning musical "Candide" in Symphony Hall. In this popular adaptation of Voltaire’s satirical novel, the naïve Candide is separated from his beloved and journeys around the world to find her while fiercely retaining his mentor’s belief that "this is the best of all possible worlds" in the face of ever-increasing catastrophes. "Candide" features a cast of actors, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and the Atlanta Symphony Chorus in this historic Alliance Theatre/Atlanta Symphony Orchestra co-production.

Director Susan V. Booth
Governor’s Aide/Ensemble Jeremy Aggers
Old Lady Terry Burrell
Captain/Ensemble Logan Denninghoff
Ensemble Christian Magby
Priest Jeff McKerley
Cacambo/Ensemble Ben Thorpe
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


Pick a Picaresque Risk
by playgoer
Friday, May 11, 2018
As a youth, illegitimate Candide was instructed alongside a serving girl and a noble brother and sister that this is the best of all possible worlds. All he longs for is a simple farm life, but he and the three others, plus their instructor Pangloss, are tossed and tormented by fate, torn asunder and flung to far-flung locations before being reunited (and parted again and reunited again, etc.). Finally, Candide ends the show by sharing his vision of a simple farm life. He’s gone through a lot of adventure and heartache, but ends up basically in the same mindset he started out in.

Alliance’s production of "Candide" emphasizes this lack of growth by having a puppet master (Matt Acheson) control the initial action. He introduces the narrator (Christopher Sieber) and conductor (Robert Spano) in a surprising, theatrical manner, then ascends to the top of the false proscenium to manipulate a tiny puppet theater that projects non-stageable catastrophes to screens on either side of the false proscenium, nicely melding live action with video projections by Sven Ortel. It’s all fine and fun until the screens show static and the puppet master gives up trying to manipulate any of the action. It’s as if the book writer (Hugh Wheeler, after Voltaire) has just thrown up his hands in despair in trying to make some sense of all that has just occurred. It ends the show on somewhat of a "down" note.

The music, of course, soars from start to finish. Leonard Bernstein’s score is tuneful, varied, and lush, and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus do it full justice. Danny Pelzig has created musical staging that provides varied stage pictures to accompany the music (even the overture and entr’acte), and Lex Liang’s costumes use lots of stagey accessories to allow quick transformations of the ensemble from one character to another in full view of the audience. Todd Rosenthal’s set design, with its blown-up photos of columns and a central walkway through the orchestra leading to the false proscenium, flares out near the lip of the stage to accommodate chairs seating the ensemble. Ken Yunker’s lighting design emphasizes the action without slighting peripheral movement, and Clay Benning’s sound design keeps voices and orchestra in good balance. Visually and acoustically, the production is impressive.

Performances all emphasize a comic lightness, although director Susan V. Booth seems to have encouraged overly broad bits of comedy that don’t always land. The ensemble have lots to do, and their musical theatre backgrounds and fantastic voices ensure that they make the most of their time onstage. Kathleen Farrar Buccleugh and Bradley Dean particularly impress with their stirring vocals, but there’s not a weak performance among the ensemble members.

The five principals don’t all fare so well. Three come from the world of musical comedy. Christopher Sieber does fine work as Pangloss, but (at least on opening night) stumbles when it comes to narration. Hunter Ryan Herdlicka succeeds at portraying the preening nature of noble Maximilian, but is saddled by multiple cross-dressing moments in the script that he can’t prevent from starting to feel tedious. Janine DiVita, on the other hand, sparkles throughout as the ever-accommodating serving girl Paquette, in a role that could make feminists wince and male chauvinists leer.

The other two principals come from the world of opera. Aaron Blake, as Candide, has an engaging, open-faced, youthful look perfectly suited to the role, and his acting skills make him totally believable as innocent, good-hearted Candide, letting him blend in seamlessly with the musical theatre veterans surrounding him. It’s only when the music starts and his glorious voice emerges that it’s evident his vocal training is at the operatic level. Alexandra Schoeny, on the other hand, clearly belongs to the world of opera from start to finish, with her sturdy frame and lack of subtlety in acting combining with her excellent voice to trumpet "opera singer" to the back of the auditorium. Director Susan V. Booth seems to see her in an Amy Schumer "I Feel Pretty" way, in which her confidence in that she’s a stunning beauty is supposed to convince us that she is. She’s game, but the concept doesn’t really work. The role of Cunegonde is equal parts venal and innocent, making it pretty near impossible to play, and Ms. Schoeny doesn’t accomplish the impossible task of making Cundegonde come vibrantly to life.

There’s one additional cast member who isn’t part of the ensemble, yet isn’t one of the five principals. Terry Burrell plays the Old Lady, who joins Cunegonde’s journey partway through the tale. It’s a role that calls for comic and vocal virtuosity, and Ms. Burrell isn’t quite up to the task on either hand. Sometimes her voice sounds great in duets; sometimes it pales in comparison to the opera-quality voice it’s paired with. She has a long monologue describing her past life, and Ms. Burrell doesn’t have the comic chops to keep it entertaining throughout.

"Candide" has had a troubled history, with its initial Broadway production a flop. A pared-down, reworked revival garnered praise in the 1970’s (with some new lyrics by Stephen Sondheim), but subsequent operatic productions have continued fiddling with the script and score. The Alliance’s production has lots of theatrical elements, but the fact that it’s running in the Atlanta Symphony Hall emphasizes the fact that "Candide" is a supreme musical achievement saddled to a problematic story. Go to it to enjoy the music, but don’t expect the picaresque adventures of Candide and crew to carry much emotional weight. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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