Capital University Theatre and the Conservatory of Music will team up again to produce Candide—A Musical, based on the 18th-century Voltaire novella that follows a young man throughout his journey from optimism to realism. The show opens tonight and runs through Sunday, November 18, in the Cabaret Theatre.
“Candide believes that everything is for the best and the best of all possible worlds,” Bill Kennedy, director and professor of communication, said.
He chose the show because Candide has been taught this philosophy and he goes through many different and difficult events (war, an earthquake, etc.), and tries to hold on to his ideals. Candide is forced to find another way of thinking about things — a familiar challenge to college students.
“We professors, we have certain worldviews and we’ll teach them to you but you have to test them out,” Kennedy said. “You need to apply critical thinking and test it out. You can’t just accept it.”
In addition to selecting the show, there have been months of preparations. Kennedy along with Jeff Gress, associate professor of communication, decided to combine the forces of University Theatre with the Conservatory of Music to take on this ambitious show hoping it would help alleviate pressure on the set.
“I’ve always wanted to do Candide,” Kennedy said. “It seemed like a really good opportunity.”
But this show is not without its challenges. Kennedy has been in graduate-level theatre programs that have shied away from Candide because of its tough music, patchwork history and style of musical theatre, but he was interested to see what University Theatre could do with it. So he called on longtime collaborator and Capital music professor Mark Baker, who serves a musical director for the production.
“It seems like such a great idea,” Kennedy said. “But everyone tries to take their shot at it to work. There are a lot of different versions of Candide. Part of our early challenge was to figure out what version to work on. What would be best for our students? What would be best for our space? It’s also a different style of musical theatre than students are used to.”
That’s the advantage of having Baker’s expertise and a world-class Conservatory of Music to work with.
“Candide has had so many rebirths. It’s based on an old story, and it's been re-written so many times. It was a hit as an opera; it was a hit as a musical. It has some very difficult music at times, and so the people in these roles must be very well trained. There's just no getting around that,” Baker said. “The music is very difficult in places, but we have a wonderful pianist, Barbara Sahr, and we have some really, very outstanding young folks who will be making people laugh a lot. There’s some very tender music and very powerful music toward the end.”
Music rehearsals began in early October, and full rehearsals began in mid-October. To fit the needs of the show and the cast, some drasticchanges had to be made. The casting depended on who showed up for auditions, which means that the casting changed, such as the narrator and women taking on men’s roles.
Kennedy was looking for students that could sing the Bernstein music and students who could perform a comedy. “Filling those niches was important.”
The cast of Candide includes 21 students in major roles, accompanying roles and the chorus. The most challenging part of the rehearsals has been working around everyone’s schedules.
“I don’t think we’ve had the entire cast together yet,” Kennedy said. He attempts to work around student schedules and make the most of every situation. “There’s no sense getting mad about it. It is what it is.”
In all, University Theatre and the Conservatory of Music will jointly produce three musical theatre productions this year — 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which was staged last month, Candide and Gilbert and Sullivan's The Gondoliers, set for spring 2013. Auditions, which are open to all Capital students, will begin Monday, November 19.
“There just aren't other undergraduate schools that have that many opportunities for students. Typically, you have one or two. To be able to do three productions is wonderful,” Baker explained.
It’s wonderful not only because it’s a brag point for the department, but more importantly, it gives Capital students actual stage and performance experience.
“I always tell prospective students to choose a school that needs them, where they can actually ‘do it’ instead of being assigned to a chorus somewhere and being told how it's done. This collaboration creates such a host of opportunities for students."
With all the lighting, casting and rehearsals complete, Kennedy is looking forward to a few things.
“As an artist, I enjoy the planning stage the best because that’s when you solve it. You have this script that they’ve done on Broadway, they’ve done all over the world, but they haven’t done it in the Cabaret. You’re taking this thing that can be huge and figuring out how it can work in our space, with our budget and with our people in the time we have.”
Stepping away from his role as director to serve as musical director, Baker now finds himself with more breathing room for his creativity.
“This is new to me; I haven't just been a musical director, and I'm enjoying it. Part of the reason I love doing this is because I have a freedom now and my mind is more relaxed, and I'm able to think in directions I haven't before. Bill is doing the hard stuff, so it makes it more like a professional setup, where I can focus on directing and helping the kids grow, and I can concentrate on the music.”
Candide opens tonight in Cabaret Theatre, located on the lower level of the Harry C. Moores Campus Center. Thursday through Saturday performances will be at 8 pm, and Sunday’s will be at 2 pm. For ticket information, please call 614-236-7174.