Monday, September 27, 2010

Can Mary Zimmerman solve the Candide Problem?

Despite an artistic pedigree that included composer Leonard Bernstein, playwright Lillian Hellman, poet Richard Wilbur, director Tyrone Guthrie, singer/actress Barbara Cook, and dabbling by the likes of Dorothy Parker and James Agee, the musical Candide was considered a flop when it premiered on Broadway in 1956, closing after just 73 performances.

It's a testimony to the brilliance of Bernstein's music that Candide became the musical that refused to die.  In 1974, legendary director Harold Prince created a stripped-down,  boisterous restaging, with a new book by Hugh Wheeler, additional music by Bernstein, and new and revised lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, that was such a smash Off-Broadway that it transferred to the Great White Way and ran 741 performances.  Prince also staged a 1994 production at Chicago's Lyric Opera production that featured Elizabeth Futral  as Cunegonde.

The downside of the success was that subsequent productions have veered increasingly into the realm of burlesque, culminating in a 2004 semi-staged version with the New York Philharmonic where such brilliant performers as Thomas Allen and Kristen Chenoweth were reduced to acting in an "aren't we being funny" manner so arch that it made you want to throw up. 

Now, Chicago director Mary Zimmerman has thrown out everything and written a new book for her production of Candide at the Goodman, which has been in previews and opens, I think, tonight.
I'm scheduled to see it on Thursday, and I expect to be writing a lot more about it after that, but for now, here's some links to excellent stories by the Sun-Times' Heidi Weiss and New City's Dennis Polkow.  You can also access the Goodman's own program for the new production, which provides a very fine overview of Candide's history, and an interview with Zimmerman on her approach to this classic yet troubled work of American theatre, which is scheduled to run at the Goodman through October 31.

1 comment:

Kirk said...

Saw it last night and thoroughly enjoyed, but I think Chris Jones' review in the Tribune this morning was spot on!