Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Why Candide?

Posted by Artistic Director Robert Falls

A number of years ago, Mary Zimmerman came to me with an idea just beginning to take shape in her mind: a new production of the classic Leonard Bernstein musical Candide. She had been introduced to the piece by several of her friends and had already spent some time studying the various versions of the show that had been produced since its Broadway premiere in 1956. She responded immediately to Bernstein’s score, widely considered to be his best creation for the musical stage; but she felt that the adaptations of Voltaire’s novel, each admirable in its way, somehow missed the singularly pointed satiric humor of the original. She proposed the creation of a new book for the piece, one which included many of the strengths of the previous adaptations while remaining truer to the unique spirit of Voltaire’s text. After a series of meetings with the various representatives of these artists, Mary received permission to create her own version of Candide.

By that time, Mary was hard at work on other projects, chief among them a series of three highly successful productions for the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Her work in this sphere only added to her enthusiasm for a reworked Candide and last fall, prior to her rehearsals for the third of her Met commitments, she began actively working with musical director Doug Peck (a longtime aficionado of the show) on this long-awaited project. As I write this, Mary is downstairs in the rehearsal room fashioning this new production with the singular insight and imagination that has infused such disparate pieces as The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, The Odyssey and Pericles. Like those works, Candide is essentially the story of a journey: a young man, cast out by the family who adopted him as a child, travels the world to experience a variety of calamities, each of which tests the contention of his mentor, the venerable Dr. Pangloss, that all things happen for the best in this “best of all possible worlds.” Although the wanderings of Candide, Cunegonde and the others that populate Voltaire’s story are described with sly humor, the basic questions that lie beneath these absurdly comic sequences are very serious ones indeed: How can we deal with the disasters that befall us without surrendering to crippling despair, or worse, complete paralysis? Can we maintain a sense of optimism in a world that often seems randomly cruel? How is survival itself possible in an environment that often gleefully refutes Pangloss’s hopeful axiom?

Such heady themes are rarely explored in Broadway musicals—but the deft humor of Voltaire’s original, the enduring relevance of his themes, and Bernstein’s brilliantly multifaceted score have made Candide a phenomenon of the American theater, with such diverse writers as Lillian Hellman and Stephen Sondheim lending their distinctive visions to half a dozen versions of the show. I am thrilled that Mary is now bringing her unique artistry to this funny, insightful, and richly theatrical work, and I’m happier still that Candide will launch a season during which we celebrate a decade of work in our Dearborn Street home. Throughout this season, our Onstage magazine will feature a series of articles allowing you to reflect with us on some of the glories of the past ten years here, successes made possible in large part by our state-of-the art facility.

Here’s to a remarkable past decade at the Goodman Theatre—and to the many, many achievements to come.

Robert Falls
Artistic Director, Goodman Theatre

We hope you are as excited as we are about Candide! Please share your questions and comments with us below.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

First Day of Rehearsal

Posted by Lauren Molina, Cunegonde in Candide

My first day at Goodman Theatre.
I couldn’t be more excited to step into the rehearsal space of the Goodman Theatre and begin my journey as Cunegonde. From the first time I heard Bernstein’s luscious score to CANDIDE as a child, I wanted to be a part of the show. Cunegonde is a dream role in and of itself, singing the most glorious music ever written. But to add the fact that Mary Zimmerman is directing and rewriting the book, Doug Peck is musical directing, and that we are in one of the most creatively conducive environments for smart, edgy theatre, here at the Goodman, I am truly feeling spoiled as an actor.

The first day we had a meet and greet with the incredibly talented cast, creatives, and many of the staff who work at the Goodman, from marketing to box office to education. I immediately felt a sense of strong community within this world.

Mary Zimmerman gave me a big hug upon arrival. Her warmth and quirky laugh is infectious. She always works with her old dog, Beary, by her side. I was pleased to see an animal in the rehearsal space. It provides a sense of calm and grounded-ness somehow. She said that when she worked at the MET the opera singers didn’t mind the dog around.

Mary gave a speech about her rehearsal process, in that she writes pages of the script as she goes, handing new pages to the actors each day. This makes each day exciting, but also can be overwhelming and stressful. After you read your scene through once or twice, Mary stages it. So, with script in hand you are forced to make strong and immediate character choices, sometimes falling on your face.

Mary recollected Racine’s quote, “I’ve just finished a new play, and all I have left to do is write the dialogue.” She feels this way about her process.

We were told to read the Voltaire novel CANDIDE as our only preparation. I also worked on the songs with my voice teacher, Candace Goetz, and two coaching sessions with Doug Peck, prior to our first rehearsal in Chicago.

I have seen and heard so many different versions of Cunegonde, from very operatic sounding, where even though they’re singing in English, you can’t understand the words, to the Lincoln Center Lonny Price production with the perky, pinging Kristin Chenoweth being…well, Kristin Chenoweth.

Because of the inconsistencies in character from varying previous productions, I didn’t have a strong identity or perception of who Cunegonde was as a person. I knew I had to use this rehearsal process to make some real, honest discoveries. This is difficult because my impulse is to always go for a joke, when I know that playing the truth is a better choice.

Mary continued her speech to make the following points:
  • CANDIDE has not typically been a critical success, yet it is a machine of delight.
  • The Voltaire novel is a difficult, episodic original text. Mary feels that CANDIDE has been done in ways that are too cartoonish/broad in a way, given the sophistication of the music and lyrics.
  • This inconsistency therefore propagates that we shouldn’t take the novel seriously, because of certain tonal things about the novel.
  • It is a hypocrisy in CANDIDE, in the end, when Candide finally says “life sucks,” “man cannot exist in harmony” then breaking into the most beautiful harmony of “Make Our Garden Grow.”
  • It is important to recognize that this novel, though written in the 1700s is strikingly contemporary. The American optimism gives an excuse for nothing to change. It is always contemporary to satirize power and corruption in politics and the clergy.
  • The text at its core is difficult. It is not joking about rape, but joking about people who in the face of anything insist on keeping their same point of view. What’s funny is not the tragedy, but the held optimism while tragedy constantly falls on these people.

We learned a dance to “Easily Assimilated” and then sang. I love how every voice in this production is unique and when we sing as an ensemble everyone’s voice is distinguishable.

I’m feeling like this show is going to be really awesome.