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A CurtainUp Review

This ridiculous weakness for living has kept me alive in spite of myself. .—Dr. Pangloss
Scott Greer in Candide
Scott Greer in Candide
Voltaire's famous Candide is the young man who, though beset by terrible difficulties, humorously tries to keep faith with his mentor, Dr. Pangloss's philosophy that this is the best of all possible worlds. Arden's Artistic director Terrence J. Nolen adopts a somewhat sober tone in his presentation of John Caird's version of Candide. He aims to get to the heart of this musical traveling love story, which at times has been presented in a style bordering on slapstick. Based on two other productions of Candide that I've seen in the past, I'd say that a lot of fluff and nonsense has been removed.

Performed in the round, the stage is essentially bare, which is probably the last way anyone would imagine staging Candide. However, a few props and furnishings serve many ingenious purposes, and the show is actually elaborate in terms of lighting and imagination. The space becomes a panorama of transitions and music, filled with a changing array of virtual locations that is crowded with constant action.

The cast is fine, as it usually is at the Arden. Ben Dibble as Candide is quite miraculous, which is nothing new for him. Scott Greer, looking like a reincarnation of Orson Welles, masterfully hosts the action as Voltaire, and also plays Dr. Pangloss. Liz Filios's lovely voice suits Cunegonde, and Mary Martello's Old Woman is funny and solid. Among other standout performances are those by Christopher Patrick Mullen, Richard Ruiz, and Jeffrey Coon. The whole ensemble is precise, a very good thing for this bustling show.

The somewhat more serious, balanced view offered here takes a bit of the burnish off Candide's satiric edge, which achieves its effect through the contrast between foolish optimism and grim reality. Yet this production's approach helps to make more sense of the ending which hasn't always seemed to fit the rest of the show. It also makes it seem like it takes a long time to get there. And it does. . . three hours. .

While staging in the round makes the piece accessible, it necessitates that the actors frequently turn away to face other sectors of the audience, and that's during songs with lots and lots of lyrics. The gist comes across through the activity, but often the words are hard to make out. Assisted listening devices (ALD's) are available. If you go, it might be a good idea to request one so that you'll hear all the great lyrics.
The Arden version of Voltaire's satiric, irredeemably picaresque story boasts a cast of 9, an ensemble of 11, and a 9 piece orchestra. Eric Ebbenga directs Leonard Bernstein's exuberant, bright music. I miss the color and silliness of previous versions even as I find this tidied up production admirable and well worthwhile.

Book adapted from Voltaire by Hugh Wheeler
Version by John Caird
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics by Richard Wilbur and Stephen Sondheim, John Latouche, Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker, Leonard Bernstein. Over the years everyone got into the lyricist act. Some songs have been much re-worked by several lyricists.
Directed by Terrence J. Nolen
Music Direction & conductor: Eric Ebbenga

Cast: Joel T. Bauer, Ben Dibble, Erin Driscoll, Liz Filios, Nick Gaswirth, Scott Greer, Mary Martello, Christopher Patrick Mullen, Richard Ruiz, and ensemble
Set Design: James Kronzer
Lighting Design: Justin Townsend
Costume Design: Rosemarie E. McKelvey
Sound Design: Jorge Cousineau
Choreography: Dierdre Finnegan At the Arden Theatre. Running time 3 hours, one 15 min intermission
09/11/08 – 10/19/08
Reviewed by Kathryn Osenlund based on 09/19 performance
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