By Leonard Bernstein
Directed by David Fuller
Produced by Theater 2020
Nomination: Candide – The Musical is nominated for Outstanding Production of a Musical
Photo by David Fuller
About this Production
A fanciful story about a young man, Candide, whose journey of improbable misadventures leads him ultimately to love, manhood and the meaning of Life. War, natural disasters, unnatural assignations, torture, pirates and disease are among the many obstacles Candide overcomes, in a paradoxically comedic satire. This was a site-specific production at St. Charles Borromeo Church.
Director, David Fuller; Choreographer Judith Jarosz and Music Director Ming Aldrich-Gan talk about staging this larger than life musical as a site-specific production and on a shoe-string budget.
What attracted you to this project?
David: Hal Prince, who is on our Advisory Board, had directed this version 40 years ago out at BAM. I knew that version well and have always loved what he, Hugh Wheeler and Stephen Sondheim had done with what to my mind was an unwieldy 1950's Lillian Hellman book. The property was available and the timing seemed right for a 40 year anniversary remounting back in Brooklyn where we are based, with Hal's enthusiastic blessing. Moreover, I have always adored the score. And that final song: how glorious!
Judith: The score is sublime. I played/sang Cunegunde in a production in school while getting my undergrad degree and fell in love with the entire piece. The humor is just the way I like it, a little shocking and unexpected, as well as very infectious. Lenny Bruce meets the good humor man.
Ming: As a classically-trained pianist working in musical theater, I have a special place in my heart for works like Bernstein's Candide that straddle the operatic and musical theater genres.
What was your favorite part of working on this production?
David: We had great collaborators, from our wonderful, extremely talented cast, to our crew and designers. Auditions were highly competitive and the caliber of our cast was astounding. Working with Judith as choreographer and Viviane Galloway as costume designer is always a joy and Ming as a new team member was just terrific. Dana, Marilee and Gaby were invaluable backstage and on spotlights. It was just a blast from the first rehearsal to the final curtain.
Judith: Working with the artists. It was magical getting to hear Ming’s amazing playing and the singer’s stellar voices in the acoustically fabulous Saint Charles Borromeo Church. Every single performance they had me in tears during that finale. Good tears!
Ming: Playing a grand piano in a musical is a rare treat! The cast and creative team helmed by David and Judith of Theater 2020 were not only talented and hardworking (which is half the battle when working with such challenging material), but also great to work with.
What was the most challenging part of working on this production?
David: The most challenging part was staging a full-scale musical site-specifically in a Catholic Church sanctuary. Every scenic element I designed or set piece I decided to use had to be easily stowed away after every performance. But the leadership at St. Charles Borromeo Church was very supportive and we were able to use the entire space at will: from the choir loft, to the pulpit, to the altar and every space in between.
Judith: The music for this piece is NOT easy, to play or sing. Choreographing interesting movements that help tell the story while being sensitive to this reality is a major task. Also doing a large musical on an indie theater shoestring budget always tests the boundaries of patience. You want to do more. Like everyone, we beg, borrow, and scrounge. Viviane Galloway works miracles with costumes.
Ming: Bernstein (to my knowledge) never intended Candide to be performed with solo piano. The piano reductions supplied by MTI (the licensing company) range from "not easy" to "impossible", and required some reworking on my part for me to render the orchestral score as faithfully as possible with just ten fingers. The Overture, in particular, ended up being practically my own arrangement. You can watch me perform it.
Why do a production of Candide now? (What makes it relevant now?)
David: There's always a need for laughter and wonderful music. And the themes are very pertinent.
Judith: The lessons of Voltaire in Candide are as timeless as Shakespeare’s. We earth spirits just love to keep repeating history, so this material is always relevant.
What did you want the audience to come away with after watching your production?
David: I hope our audiences came away from Candide with an appreciation for Voltaire's themes through the lens of Prince/Wheeler, as well as an uplift in their spirits. Quite simply, I hope the musical made them happy.
Judith: An appreciation for Leonard Bernstein’s astonishing abilities and Voltaire’s lessons. Shit happens to everyone. This too shall pass. Be grateful for your life. Be kind to others. And laugh at yourself…always remember to laugh.