The Players’ Candide overreaches in an attempt to be topical.
By Kay Kipling
The musical adaptation of Voltaire’s satire Candide has undergone so many revisions and rethinkings since it originally bowed more than 50 years ago that it probably seems more open to directorial tinkering than most Broadway shows of its era. Likewise, many people have never seen the show despite its cultish reputation, so they have no comparisons to make.
That said, it still might have been wiser for the Players of Sarasota production to stick closer to the original, for the audience’s sake. Instead, director Jeffery Kin has taken the opportunity to contemporize the story, originally published more than 250 years ago, of a naïve young man (Candide, played by Kirk Hughes) and his disaster-filled journey through what his tutor, Dr. Pangloss (Cliff Roles) has instructed him is the best of all possible worlds. Some of his choices work better than others. Too often, they just prove distracting and even confusing in a picaresque story that already moves us very quickly from one awful adventure to the next.
Cast members of the Players of Sarasota production of Candide.
The opening scene, which features a troupe-in-a-trunk set of actors preparing to present the play, is fine. And one can understand the temptation later on, for example, of having the Grand Inquisitor who orders Candide burnt at the stake for heresy resemble a 20th-century televangelist, and the crowds who gather for the auto-da-fe be like fans cheering a sporting event. But sometimes the mix of modern and period wear and manners, the feeling of too many winks and nudges to the audience, is a turnoff. And having a Greek chorus provide the narration, rather than, say, the voice of Voltaire himself, adds nothing to the production.
There is talent onstage here, fortunately, since the famously challenging score by Leonard Bernstein (well interpreted by musical director Joyce Valentine and her orchestra) demands it. Hughes, Roles and Cara Herman as Paquette, the requisite lusty serving wench, are all suitable players for their roles, and Stephanie Costello certainly makes the most of her part as the Old Lady, whose tales of woe outstrip anything her younger sufferers can relate. In the role of Candide’s true love, the oft-ravished Cunegonde, D’ariel Barnard, who came to the role after another actress left it, has a pretty voice that flies high on her Glitter and Be Gay solo; she is not yet comfortable with some of her movements on stage, and Paul Lopez’s costume designs do little to flatter her.
For diehard Candide fans, the chance to see a show so seldom done will still draw them out, and the wonderful music and the timeless appeal of Voltaire’s masterwork do provide rewards. For newcomers to the piece, however, those rewards may not be quite enough.
Candide continues through March 9; call 365-2494 or visit theplayers.org.