REVIEW: Candide (Goodman Theatre)

Zimmerman fills stage with playful imagery

 

Candide at Goodman Theatre - Rebecca Finnegan, Govind Kumar, Erik Lochtefeld, Margo Seibert, Geoff Packard, Lauren Molina

   
Goodman Theatre presents
   
Candide
   
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Based on novella by Voltaire
Adapted and Directed by Mary Zimmerman
at Goodman’s Albert Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn (map)
through October 31  | 
tickets: $25-$85   |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

Mary Zimmerman is the mastermind behind The Goodman Theatre’s new musical production of Candide. The Tony-award winner not only directed the epic, whose plot literally spans years and oceans, but she also adapted the script. Normally, I’m not a fan of one person having such a heavy hand in the development of a drama. Having a  separate writer and director has major benefits, namely the benefit of distance from the work. And it is this distance that can fix any glaring errors in the script or add directorial nuances to strengthen the production.

Geoff Packard as Candide in Goodman Theatre production - Photo by Liz LaurenFortunately, Zimmerman has crafted a cohesive, entertaining and visually stunning piece of work. Thanks to her affinity for levity, Zimmerman saves Voltaire’s classic philosophical narrative from becoming crushed under the weight of its own ideology. I’m amazed that such a sprawling script and dense story can be so digestible.

Candide begins peacefully enough, with Candide (Geoff Packard), a young lad of unremarkable lineage, studying with blue-blooded siblings Cunegonde (Lauren Molina) and Maximilian (Erik Lochtefeld). They are learning metaphysics from their instructor Pangloss (Larry Yando), whose core belief is that this world is the best of all possible worlds. Although wonderfully optimistic, his mantra is also incredibly naïve, a fact that Candide soon learns.

Once the Baron (Tom Aulino) discovers his daughter, Cunegonde, passionately throwing herself at Candide, the young boy is banished (and we witness a scene transition that is surreal as it is stunning). Now Candide is on his own; caught in the middle of war-torn Europe with only Pangloss’ feeble-minded philosophy to guide him from one atrocity to another.

The play does Voltaire’s work justice. Zimmeran does a wonderful job highlighting the short-sightedness of optimism in the face of pervasive human tragedy. For example, the musical’s darkly humorous number “Auto-da-fe,” a song about a town’s eagerness to witness public executions, is instilled with a playful, cartoonish enthusiasm that makes the capital deaths that much more disturbing.

Jesse Perez and Geoff Packard in Candide at Goodman Theatre - photo by Liz Lauren Candide is also very funny. For instance, there’s a running gag with a flock of red sheep, which, although a little silly, provides some light-heartedness to a play that is otherwise filled with people getting maimed and mutilated. There are also some subtle gags, like the use of miniatures to convey the scene’s setting. In one scene in particular, Candide and his travel companions face a storm while at sea. Although the stage does not resemble a boat at all, an actor moves a small boat on a pole to illustrate the tossing and turning of the vessel as Candide and others rock back and forth in unison.

The acting is solid with noteworthy performances from Packard, Yando and Hollis Resnik as the charming and crass Old Lady. Although some performers may fall short of their notes here and there, the singing is still remarkable, considering the amount of energy and endurance that this play requires. Stand out numbers include the hilarious “I Am Easily Assimilated” and the show closer “Make Our Garden Grow.”

Daniel Ostling’s set design is minimal but striking. A large wood-paneled wall occupies all of stage right where secret compartments allow characters and props to easily enter and exit. Trapdoors are used generously, which extends the world of the play farther beyond the extraordinarily roomy stage.

Hollis Resnick and Lauren Molina in Candide at Goodman Theatre - photo by Liz Lauren Hollis Resnick in Candide at Goodman Theatre - photo by Liz Lauren
Erik Lochtefeld as Maximillian in Candide at Goodman Theatre - photo by Liz Lauren Tom Aulina and Geoff Packard in Candide Goodman Theatre - photo by Liz Lauren Larry Yand and Geoff Packard in Candide at Goodman Theatre - photo by Liz Lauren

Despite all these positives, there is one flaw to Zimmerman’s work that I cannot overlook. By being so close to this production, she has blinded herself to the fact that by infusing Candide with so much comedic sentiment, she guts the characters of relatable qualities. Actors often indicate rather than act and sport affectations that comment on the work rather than serving as part of the work. In making these characters merely pawns in a farce, we aren’t really invested in them, and thus the stakes for Candide to eventually find his lost love Cunegonde are set so low that we really don’t care whether they’re reunited or not.

Still, Voltaire’s work isn’t so much about separated lovers as it is a commentary on the contemporary philosophies of his day. And Zimmerman’s work is effective at bringing Voltaire’s talent for satire to life. So this drawback does not overshadow the fact that Candide is a very good play, not necessarily the best of all possible plays, but a good play nonetheless.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

Geoff Packard and Lauren Molina in Candide at Goodman Theatre - photo by Liz Lauren

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REVIEW: Writers’ Theatre’s “Oh Coward!”

Mad about the boy!!

 

Doug,_John,_Kate_on_piano,_Rob-H 

Writers’ Theatre presents:

OH COWARD!

A Musical Comedy Revue

Words and music by Noel Coward
Devised by
Roderick Cook
Musical direction by
Doug Peck
Directed by Jim Corti

Thru March 21st (ticket info)

reviewed by Katy Walsh

“I am not a heavy drinker. I can sometimes go hours without touching a drop.”

Writers’ Theatre presents OH COWARD!, a musical revue celebrating the words and music of Noel Coward. Nicknamed “The Master,” Noel Coward (1899-1973) was a playwright, lyricist, composer, actor, singer, director and producer. The musical revue was devised by Roderick Cook, who won the Tony Award for Best Actor in 1987 for his performance in it.

“It’s discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.”

This memorable Coward quote reflects the philosophical basis and impetus for much of his work. The bawdy lyrics of songs like “Mrs. Worthington,” that tell a stage mother not to put her ugly daughter on stage, are shockingly hilarious. Coward is The Master in spinning tales of drinking indulgences, sexual indiscretions and people that annoy into delightfully witty tunes. A 1930’s party-goer would have been wise to cozy up to Coward for an evening’s amusement of gossip and to avoid becoming a target. Without Coward’s actual presence, OH COWARD! is the perfect party substitute.

Kate,_John,_Rob-Horiz_ActI_martini

First, any successful party requires the right ambiance. Scenic designer, Kevin Depinet , has reconfigured the theatre space into a 1930’s night club with blown-up pictures of Noel Coward on the wall. The audience sits in a U-shape, allowing for a true intimate cabaret experience. Next, the wrong music can be a party buzz kill. For this particular soiree, Coward’s songs are at the epicenter of the festivities. Under the musical direction of Doug Peck, the lively melodies add to the fast paced merriment. At pivotal moments, the soulful ballads “If Love Were All” and “Mad About The Boy”, both arranged by Peck, give the party guests a breather and a shocker at the honest glimpse into Coward’s private isolation.

The absolute key to turning any gathering into a bash is if the host knows the right people to invite. Director Jim Corti has the A-List in attendance with Kate Fry, Rob Lindley and John Sanders. With a glass of champagne or a martini, party gossip is best delivered with playful wit. OH COWARD! has a superstar tri-fecta! Under The Masters’ (both Coward and Corti) influence, Fry, Lindley and Sanders are beautifully synchronized in songs and stories. The best part of their harmonized performance is the genuine enjoyment that radiates. In true imagined Coward fashion, these three seem to have spontaneously taken over a party with their flawless entertainment skills. OH COWARD! is THE party of the year!

“I have always been very fond of (drama critics)… I think it’s so frightfully clever of them to go night after night to the theatre and know so little about it.”

Oh Noel, you are hilarious!

Rating: ★★★½

 

Doug,_Rob,_Kate,_John-Vert_formal

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