National Review Online recently asked me to make some Christmas-gift suggestions. To see my picks, go here and scroll down.
Archives for December 17, 2010
In today’s Wall Street Journal drama column, I report on Mary Zimmerman’s new production of Candide–not very enthusiastically, I fear. Here’s an excerpt.
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Of all the great musicals, “Candide” poses the biggest problems to anyone who tries to stage it. It’s universally agreed that Leonard Bernstein’s brilliant operetta-style score is altogether worthy of Voltaire’s ferocious satire of 18th-century optimism, but the original 1956 Broadway production closed after 73 performances, mainly because of the heavy-handedness of Lillian Hellman’s book, and since then the show has been revised and rewritten repeatedly in an attempt to make it work. Now Mary Zimmerman, whose “Metamorphoses” hit big in 2002, has taken up the challenge, concocting a new version of “Candide” co-produced by Chicago’s Goodman Theatre and the Shakespeare Theatre Company of Washington, D.C., where I saw it last week. I wish I could say that Ms. Zimmerman has finally cracked the “Candide” code, but her version, despite many memorable moments, fails once again to solve the problem of creating a convincing context for Bernstein’s miraculously effervescent music.
Ms. Zimmerman, like the vast majority of her predecessors, takes as a starting point Harold Prince’s successful 1974 Broadway revival of “Candide,” for which Hugh Wheeler wrote an all-new book that was undeniably effective but dismayingly vulgar. Eight years later Mr. Prince put together a longer “opera-house version” of the show for the New York City Opera, and in 1989 Bernstein himself recorded an even longer “final revised version” of the score with which subsequent directors have continued to tinker. This time around, Ms. Zimmerman has scrapped Wheeler’s dialogue, replacing much of it with speeches drawn directly from Voltaire’s novella, and has crammed in more of Bernstein’s revised score than any previous non-operatic stage version.
The result is a musical that runs for three hours and feels slow, especially in the second act, which sags badly in the middle. It doesn’t help that Ms. Zimmerman, like Wheeler before her, relies on a string of third-person narrators to advance the episodic plot, a device that slows the action to something in between a crawl and a waddle. The hectic staging–the actors are forever pushing around props and set pieces–fails to paper over the sluggish pacing…
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Read the whole thing here.
“Only two classes of books are of universal appeal: the very best and the very worst.”
Ford Madox Ford, Joseph Conrad : A Personal Remembrance