Monday, July 20, 2015

The best of all possible whirls

On Sunday afternoon I was happy to see the opening of Glimmerglass Festival's new production of Mr. Bernstein's Candide, based on the work of Mr. Voltaire, with significant adaptation and new lyrics by a long list of writers that includes Stephen Sondheim and Lillian Hellman. Voltaire's story mocks the extreme optimism of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, having the protagonist struggle between his training in such philosophy while enduring loss and hardship that becomes comical in its proliferation and extremity. Poor, witless Candide finally realizes he can't reconcile optimism with experience, but can only take care of himself and his own, can only tend his own garden.

(L-R) Christan Bowers, David Garrison,
Andrew Stenson, Kathryn Lewek, Kristen Choi
Photo:  Karli Cadel, Glimmerglass Festival
As with most Francesca Zambello productions I've seen, I can hardly resist singing the praises of the production team before mentioning the stellar cast. Ms. Zambello, as Director, and Conductor Joseph Colaneri, Scenic Designer James Noone, Costume Designer Jennifer Moeller, Hair/Makeup Designer Anne Ford-Coates, Lighting Designer Mark McCullough, and Choreographer Eric Sean Fogel, have created a treasure. From the opening bars of Mr. Colaneri's energetic reading of the score, I knew this would be a special show, and I was not disappointed. The clever arrival of some of the ensemble members on stage (I won't spoil it, but you'll remember it if you get to see it!) and the many other visual delights created by the design team, choreographer, and Ms. Zambello before the first words were sung only added to the excitement.

Marietta Simpson and
Andrew Stenson
Photo: Karli Cadel
Glimmerglass Festival
The mostly young cast deserves the highest praise as well. I first saw Andrew Stenson in 2011. As a Glimmerglass Young Artist, he nearly stole the show in John Musto's Later the Same Evening. This young man has the vocal chops and the charisma to carry an eponymous role like Candide. A strong but sweet voice and a gentle and sweet persona on stage made Mr. Stenson's portrayal a success. When Candide learns his beloved Cunegonde is supposed dead, his pain is palpable, and when after two and a half hours of reunions and separations, he finally realizes how Cunegonde has survived all this time, we feel the same loss and pain, with added anger.

Kathryn Lewek was a delight as Candide's main squeeze Cunegonde. Spirited, energetic, with a very earthy and pragmatic side, Ms. Lewek's Cunegonde was a great contrast to Mr. Stenson's extreme optimism. Ms. Lewek delivered a dazzling "Glitter and Be Gay", and of course was quite equal to all of the role's other vocal demands.

Kathryn Lewek
Photo: Karli Cadel
Glimmerglass Festival
Musical theater and television veteran David Garrison was an appropriately self absorbed Pangloss, arguing around any flaws in his philosophy with faulty logic that convinces his willing victims students. When Mr. Garrison took off his coat and became Voltaire as narrator, he often had a delightful look of "Isn't this fun? See what I can dupe these people into doing?"

Marietta Simpson, the only other guest artist in the cast, was delightful as the Old Lady. Other roles in Ms. Simpson's bio are legit opera roles, which explains the occasionally awkward transition between lusty belt voice and equally strong head voice--a very small criticism given the many other great qualities she brought to the role. Ms. Simpson had a great sense of timing in delivering her comic lines and a great sense of physical comedy in portraying an old lady with only one buttock.

The remaining cast members were all Glimmerglass Young Artists. Christian Bowers, who wowed us last year as Clyde Griffiths in An American Tragedy, was Cunegonde's self-absorbed brother Maximilian. Kristen Choi was very good last season as Suzuki in Madama Butterfly, and our opinion of her grows and grows with her coquettish Paquette and other things she is performing at Glimmerglass. Andrew Marks Maughan was a fine Cacambo and Matthew Scolin a delightfully cynical Martin. The ensemble was composed of Glimmerglass Young Artists, all a pleasure to watch for their energy and commitment.

I find that Candide is my favorite Glimmerglass production of the season. This production is full of magic and power and zest, and never disappointed. Go see it if you can get a ticket!

Photo:  Karli Cadel, Glimmerglass Festival

Yes, it's another plug for the beautiful Overlook Mansion in Little Falls, just a half hour away from Glimmerglass. Take a look!

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