BWW REVIEW: Leonard Bernstein's CANDIDE Is Presented In A Brilliant Staged Concert By Sydney Philharmonia Choirs at Sydney Opera House.
Sunday 30th September 2018, 1pm, Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House
The Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, Sydney Youth Orchestra and a stellar cast of performers join to present a wonderful expression of Leonard Bernstein's CANDIDE under the baton of Sydney Philharmonia Choirs' Artistic and Music Director Brett Weymark and theatrical direction by Mitchell Butel. The 20th century adaptation of Voltaire's absurd 18th century novella about love and making your own future is eerily relevant in the 21st century is presented with wonderful renditions of Bernstein's score and a delightful dramatization.
Whilst the music of Bernstein's CANDIDE was first heard in 1956 when the musical opened on Broadway, its subsequent lack of success saw it cut down with a new book by Hugh Wheeler before it eventually was returned to a standard two Act musical performed by the New York City Opera in 1982. It is this version, with lyrics by a multitude of lyricists including Richard Wilbur, Stephen Sondeheim, John La Touche, Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker and Berstein himself, along with narration for concert version by Bernstein and John Wells that the audience are treated to. For those unfamiliar with the story, CANDIDE is a somewhat absurd comic piece about love whilst destroying the myth that a benevolent god will look after the people on earth as a illegitimate nephew of the Baron Thunder-ten-Tronck (Nicholas Jones), the optimistic Candide (Alexander Lewis), is banished from Westphalia for taking a fancy to his cousin, the Baron's pretty daughter Cunégonde (Annie Aitken). Tragedy then befalls the Baron and his household as the castle comes under attack and the Baron, the Baroness, Cunégonde, her vain brother Maximillian (Kanen Breen), the 'accomodating' serving girl Paquette (Katherine Allen) and the youth's tutor Dr Pangloss (Phillip Scott) are repeatedly ravished and killed. As Candide travels the world, surviving population decimating disaster along the way, he eventually discovers that the inhabitants of Schloss Thunder-ten-Tronck have survived. Side stories of Pangloss, Cunégonde, Maximillian and Paquette's survival adds to the absurdity of the work, particularly as Cunegonde comes across the intriguing Old Lady (Caroline O'Connor) who joins in on the journey after Cunégonde and Candide are reunited, the trio fleeing arrest for murder of the two men Cunegonde has been prostituting herself to.
Production designer Brendan de la Hay gives the simple staging a vibrancy with his fabulous costumes that add colour, drama and the requisite amount of glitter. Opaque plastic cubes and an adorned narrator's lectern form the only staging, allowing the characters to shine. de la Hay captures the essence of each character wonderfully, presenting a classy caricature inkeeping with the setting and style of the work. The Baron and Baroness are in bold structured styles whilst their children are in prettier pastels, Cunégonde sporting an overload of white polka dotted lavender tulle ruffles and Maximillian head to toe in shiny pink three piece suit, pink metallic brogues and naturally a sequin bow tie. Marking the difference in connection to the family, Candide is presented in rolled up shirtsleeves, shorts held up with suspenders and long socks, echoing traditional German stylings. The Old Lady, who Butel has altered the text to pay homage to O'Connor's style and grace and fabulous looks with "veteran and still very hot lady", is dressed in a fabulous assortment of red and black garments from striped stockings rising out of ankle boots to a red striped, black ruffled skirt ready for her big number and red fur collar.
The singers that Butel has gathered are wonderful in ensuring that the text is clear, the dramatization is balanced, capturing the comedy perfectly and the singing divine. It is also refreshing that Butel has allowed a more natural sound to be adopted, letting each performer create a sound for their character which also sits well with their own style. Alexander Lewis gives Candide a delightful hope and optimism with an element of realism as his journey unfolds. He ensures that the text is clear whilst the vocals capture the emotions wonderfully from bold hope to restrained pathos. Annie Aitken has a beautiful ringing pure tone which echoes Cunégonde's innocent image, even after she's sold her body to keep herself in jewels. Kanen Breen, a regular on the Opera stage, known for his comic ability, has a delicious rich tone whilst incorporating a posh but playful nature to his expression of the persistently preening narcissistic Maximillian and his presentation of the captive in disguise is hilariously fabulous. Thankfully de la Hay's costumes and the choreography make use of his lovely long legs which had some of the ladies in the audience envious for his perfect pins.
Phillip Scott is a wonderful choice as the Narrator and Dr Pangloss as the acclaimed performer, writer and composer, well known for his skill with words, ensures that none of the incredible text is lost. He also adds some of his own astute observation in the welcoming speech which helps bring the work into the 21st century. Whilst the rest of the cast are known for their singing, the role of Dr Pangloss isn't as musically detailed allowing Scott to present the work with a Sprechstimme. Caroline O'Connor is fabulous as the Old Lady as she dances, sings and acts with energy, precision and playfulness. Whilst the Old Lady's number I Am Easily Assimilated is possibly one of the better-known songs from the work O'Connor ensures that she makes it her own both vocally and physically as she dances with the two Spaniards.
The combined Sydney Philharmonia Choirs add a rich fullness to the tone as they give voice to the people of Westphalia and the other gathered masses that Candide comes across in his travels. Butel also utilizes them to help set the scenes with a brilliant conversion from traditional choir to congregated masses in the streets. Combined with the Sydney Youth Orchestra, it is wonderful to hear the combined sound of so many voices and instruments come together. It also serves as a reminder of how broad the reach of music is in the community and the inclusivity of the artform as the choir a broad range of ages and even a member with an assistance dog sitting patiently in the aisle of the choir stalls throughout the concert.
Whilst this production of CANDIDE was only on for two performances, hopefully Butel will collaborate with the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs for more concert musicals.
Sydney Philharmonia Choirs