Posted by Lauren Molina, Cunegonde in Candide
For the last 2 years, I have been performing in the hilarious 80s rock musical ROCK OF AGES on Broadway and Off-Broadway playing a hippie activist named Regina.
It was a highly comedic role, and my big solo moments were belting out such tunes as “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” by Pat Benetar, “We Built This City” by Jefferson Starship, and “The Final Countdown” by Europe. It was so much fun, and the rambunctious enthusiastic audiences would sing along and often get drunk during the show.
It was an amazing turn when I found out I booked CANDIDE, and to play opposite Geoff Packard, a castmate from ROCK OF AGES! At my last performance, before leaving for Chicago, Geoff went on for the lead role of Drew. It was a great way to share our last experience of ROCK together.
As one might imagine, it was a huge vocal gearshift from 80s rock belting to legit lyrical soprano singing. I knew I must take time to warm-up thoroughly before each rehearsal, steam my vocal chords, drink throat coat tea, and take caution when talking late night.
Cunegunde’s big number, “Glitter and Be Gay” is a beast of an aria for a coloratura soprano. It is tremendously challenging. The song sits in a very high tessitura, gsoaring to a high Eb, with fast articulations in each “Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha”, and utilizes tricky counterpoint between vocal line and the musical accompaniment. It is not a song that one can roll out of bed and sing, even for opera singers.
Mary Zimmerman’s staging of “Glitter and Be Gay” is brilliant, in that it is not just a ‘stand and sing’ number. I don’t want to give too much away, but I enter on a lift, in a very unexpected way! I begin the song, and proceed to get dressed in period costumes; corset, bloomers, petticoat, dress, jewels. The activity actually helps sing each phrase, and relaxes me somehow, distracting me from the difficulty of the song. I’m not just thinking about my singing because I have tasks to complete.
Doug Peck has been very supportive in making this song my own. He even encouraged me to sing a high F, instead of one of the high runs that only pops up to a high Eb.
During the rehearsal process in general, Mary has given me various notes in getting rid of my habits that I’ve formed from ROCK OF AGES such as “don’t always play the for the joke” or “not every line has to be funny”. When you play the truth, the comedy will come naturally without forcing it or planning it. The comedy in “Glitter and Be Gay” is found in the fact that Cunegunde is finding the silver lining, the optimism in the sad life she’s being forced to live as a mistress in a “gilded cage”.
Cunegunde is not mere ingénue. She is a more complex character than one might expect. She is one of the few characters in the show that changes from start of the play to middle and then again at the end of the play. She begins as an pretty, optimistic, young, naïve, girl, then suffers the brutality of rape, abuse, and violence by Bulgar soldiers, then she is forced into being a mistress to a Banker, Inquisitor, Lord Governor, thus losing her optimism. Finally, she is sold into slavery, where she does laundry and has lost all her beauty and hope. When she is reunited with Candide in the end, she knows she is not what he imagined she would be, but clings to him as her savior. It is tragic and sad, but at least they have found each other.
Mary reminded me that in discovering the character, “when you feel lost, always ground one foot in truth”.
Check out me and the cast singing the National Anthem at the Cubs game.