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Quantum Theatre tackles Leonard Bernstein's musical adaptation of Voltaire's Candide.

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The stage for Quantum Theatre's production of Leonard Bernstein's Candide is oval, just like a racetrack. That's no coincidence, says director Karla Boos. The show is a fast-paced comic operetta.

"I want things to go like that," says Boos, her hand describing vehicles speeding around a track and shooting out the other end.

Per Quantum's penchant for nontraditional but curiously apt venues, the stage sits in the decommissioned repair shop of Bloomfield's former Don Allen Auto City.

It's one way to approach Bernstein's adaptation of Voltaire's classic 1759 satire on ... well, on pretty much all of Western Civilization.

Voltaire savaged his era's optimism with this picaresque about the titular naif and his lady love, Cunegonde. They endure exile from their bucolic native Westphalia, plus war, shipwreck, enslavement, volcanic eruption and the Spanish Inquisition -- all while maintaining they inhabit the "best of all possible worlds," according to their mentor, Dr. Pangloss.

Bernstein wrote the show in 1956. The music is gorgeous; the book and lyrics have been revised repeatedly. Quantum artistic director Boos is using a 1970s version conceived by Broadway legend Harold Prince, with a book by Hugh Wheeler and lyrics by Richard Wilbur (and additional lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and John Latouche).

Quantum's production features an eight-piece orchestra and musical direction by Andres Cladera, artistic director for the Renaissance City choirs. John Wascavage plays Candide, with Nicole Ann Kaplan as Cunegonde, and Laurie Klatscher in the plum comic role of Old Woman, a fabled pan-European courtesan with but one buttock. The show also stars Jeff Howell (as Pangloss and the narrator), Robyne Parrish and Taavon Gamble.

Nine days before the show's opening, Wascavage, Kaplan and Klatscher are rehearsing the scene just before their characters set sail for the New World. There, Candide burbles, "at last, we will find that truly harmonious existence for which our benevolent master prepared us." Of course, they don't, though the story ends with Voltaire's own modest prescription for human happiness.

Boos chose Candide after directing a production of its finale last year for the Carnegie Mellon School of Music. Quantum rarely does musicals, but Boos loved Candide's combination of ridiculous jokes and "exquisitely emotional music." She also notes that it's the novel's 250th anniversary.

Why the Don Allen repair shop, with its peeling paint, exhaust hoses and faint smell of motor oil? "We were looking for a kind of ruined someplace" to play the best of all possible worlds, says Boos. The Voelker family, which owns the building, agreed to help. To improve the acoustics, Quantum installed dozens of foam cylinders, which hang from the ceiling like miniature heavy bags.

Working a visual theme, the orchestra and narrator (i.e., Voltaire) are costumed as mechanics, the Westphalians as customers waiting for their car to be fixed. And while the costuming includes lots of epaulets, bustiers, blond wigs and black bolero hats, there's also a cameo, Boos says, by a  "a really fantastic car that is no longer appropriate for our world."

 

Quantum Theatre performs Candide Nov. 5-22. Former Don Allen Auto City, Baum Blvd. and Liberty Ave., Bloomfield. $16-40. 412-394-3353 or www.quantumtheatre.com

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