BWW Reviews: CANDIDE at the 5th Avenue Theatre
Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre continues their love and celebration of Leonard Bernstein with his seldom produced "Candide". And while the show suffered from a few opening night pacing problems, it managed to take a very difficult to produce piece and turn it into an absolute gem!
Based on the work of Voltaire, Candide follows our young title character (played by Stanley Bahorek) as he travels the world in search of hope, happiness and his one true love Cunegonde (Laura Griffith). Both he and Cunegonde along with her brother Maximilian (Mike McGowan) and her lovely maid Paquette (Billie Wildrick) have been pupils of Dr. Pangloss (David Pichette, who also serves as our narrator in the guise of Voltaire himself) who teaches them all about his philosophy of Optimism. His philosophy with basically states that all things are the best they can be and we live in the best of all possible worlds. Well, after the penniless Candide is caught making love to the royal Cunegonde he is exiled and begins his journey out in the world. Meanwhile a coup has befallen the city and scatters our characters out in the world themselves to face some truly horrific ordeals, which are, of course, still the best of all possible worlds. One by one they all meet up again with Candide, who is desperately trying to remain optimistic, and then one by one are separated from him again (that happens a lot here). And along the way we also meet Cunegonde's new servant, who is simply referred to as "The Old Woman" (Anne Allgood), who has even more tales of woe, the eager to please Cacambo (Brandon O'Neill) and the pessimistic Martin (Allen Fitzpatrick).
Bahorek is wonderful as the ever happy Candide. Not only does he have the fresh positive face and gorgeous voice to handle the role, but he also infused it with such subtle depth that you really cared where our young hero would end up. And his understated rendition of "Candide's Lament" in Act one almost had me in tears. And an equal to match him was the incredible Griffith as his love Cunegonde. She is wielding one of the clearest most beautiful soprano voices out there complete with an incredible comic timing. Her rendition of "Glitter and Be Gay" practically brought the house down. Pichette keeps the high energy pacing throughout with his over ambitious storytelling and slightly daffy philosopher. And McGownan with his overly confident swagger and Wildrick with her vampy tendencies are both hilarious and oh so pretty to watch all at the same time. But I have to mention Anne Allgood as the Old Woman. Allgood is one of Seattle's theatrical treasures. An incredibly versatile actress who never ceases to amaze me. Whether she is knockin' 'em dead as a Texas cowgirl in "Das Barbecu" or a broken cancer victim in "Rock 'n' Roll", she always turns in the most stunning and rich performances. And here is no exception. She commanded every scene she was in and her monologue explaining why she has had a harder life than her companions stole the show. We should all feel very fortunate we have a talent like Allgood here.
OK, so stunning vocals and performances with some beautiful music. So why isn't this show done more? Because it's tough. It's insanely hard music with a story that if told wrong can bog down the show with no way out. Which is why I am so pleased with this new adaptation of the book by John Caird. He has managed to take this very complicated story and tell it with style and humor. And add into that the wonderful direction by David Armstrong who saw that this can be told very simply with little set or gimmick and the show is a winner. So often lately the 5th Avenue has suffered from the habit of over production. But not here. Armstrong has allowed the story to carry us away and not the set. A few simple curtains become a hospital. A couple of trunks are horses. A platform is a yacht. It all worked and it worked perfectly. Many thanks to Armstrong for subscribing to the "less is more" philosophy.