Sunday, May 3, 2020

75. CANDIDE (2). From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Charles Kimbrough, who took over from Lewis J. Stadlen.
 "In Lieu of Reviews"

For background on how this previously unpublished series—introducing all mainstream New York shows between 1970 and 1975—came to be and its relationship to my three The Encyclopedia of the New York Stage volumes (covering every New York play, musical, revue, and revival between 1920 and 1950), please check the prefaces to any of the earlier entries beginning with the letter “A.” See the list at the end of the current entry.

Carlos Gorbea, June Gable.
CANDIDE (2) [Musical Revival] B: Hugh Wheeler; M: Leonard Bernstein; LY: Richard Wilbur; ADD: LY: Stephen Sondheim, John Latouche; D: Harold Prince; CH: Patricia Birch; DS: Eugene Lee and Franne Lee; P: Chelsea Theatre Center of Brooklyn; T: Chelsea Theatre, Brooklyn Academy of Music (OB): 12/11/73-1/20/74 (48); on Broadway: P: Chelsea Theatre Center of Brooklyn i/c/w Harold Prince and Ruth Mitchell; T: Broadway Theatre; 3/10/74-1/4/76 (740)

Candide is listed here as a revival but it could also be considered a new musical since its original book by Lillian Hellman was scrapped and replaced by a new, much shorter one by Hugh Wheeler. A few changes in the lyrics (including the removal of some by Dorothy Parker) were also made for this exceptional production that opened at the small Off Broadway Chelsea in Brooklyn and soon moved to the Great White Way. Despite its long run there, however, it failed to turn a profit for its producers, one reason being the fact that the seating capacity of the Broadway Theatre had been reduced for the show’s special requirements even though the musicians’ union would not permit a reduction in the size of the orchestra that had to be hired.

Candide occupied a special place in theatregoers’ hearts, as it had failed in its original 1956 production despite a Leonard Bernstein score widely considered brilliant, one that had become legendary through its original cast recording.
Joe Palmieri, Mark Baker, Maureen Brennan
Harold Prince decided to make his new version succeed not only by dropping Hellman’s book but by conceiving the show in an environmental setting, staging it so that the orchestra, actors, and audience were thrown together in the same acting and viewing spaces. This allowed the extremely episodic plot about the title character’s journey through this “best of all possible worlds” to move swiftly and without the encumbrance of heavy scene changes.

Eugene and Franne Lee built a wooden structure of walkways, ramps, platforms, and bridges in the Chelsea’s loft space, making the audience watch the action from every angle while seated on backless stools, on overhanging towers, or in similarly uncomfortable positions. Several critics did, in fact, complain of the discomforts these conditions created. The action dashed freely about from one area to another, with the players often excusing themselves to the spectators for having to step over and around them.

Critical response Off Broadway was not altogether friendly. Douglas Watt panned it for slighting Bernstein’s score, for casting actors who could sing over singers who could act, and for not being funny enough. He remarked about Prince’s overtly campy, burlesque-like staging of a work itself based on a great 18th-century satire: “It is never good practice to kid a kidder.” And Jerry Tallmer asked: “What is the purpose of a satire of a satire?”

The new book, for all its innovations, including the incorporation of Voltaire himself (Lewis J. Stadlen, who also played Dr. Pangloss), failed to amuse several reviewers. In consequence, Martin Gottfried said the show “refused to budge,” being too confusing in its fragmentary style.

Yet there were potently positive responses from the likes of Clive Barnes, who wrote that “This is . . . a new musical, a fun musical, and, so far at least, the best musical of the . . . season.” He went on about this “humorous” work being “a lovely, heartwarming piece,” and noted that the new book was faithful to the cynical original in its presentation of Candide’s (Mark Baker, not to be confused with Mark Linn-Baker) misguided innocence exposed to the disastrous circumstances of Dr. Pangloss’s blindly optimistic world view. Unlike some of his compeers, Barnes was also very fond of the overall ensemble, giving his loudest bravos to Stadlen, an actor who seemed too broadly vaudevillian to a few writers.

Walter Kerr praised the show as possibly “the best of all possible productions.” He was overjoyed about the inventive way Patricia Birch’s musical staging flew effortlessly about the complex scenic area, the rapid pace that propelled the action forward, the fanciful effects created by the designers to suggest varying locales, and the outrageious cavortings of the energetic company. “It is an evening of enormous charm,” he decided. To Jack Kroll, it was “memorable,” while Edith Oliver said it was “alive,” and John Somon added, “There is wit here . . . and verve, and invention.”

Disagreement over the relative merits of the cast sprang up but, Stadlen aside, Baker, Maureen Brennan (as Cunegonde), and June Gable as the Old Lady attracted much attention.

When Candide moved to the Broadway Theatre, that large playhouse’s interior was completely redesigned to allow for an expanded 900-seat version of the Chelsea set. The auditorium seats were removed and replaced by bleachers. Here, Barnes thought, the show grew “even sharper, funnier, wittier, and more musically elegant. . . . I loved it and I loved it.” For this production, the producers created an atmosphere of circus-like excitement, even giving away free peanuts to the audience. A few of those who had reservations about the Off-Broadway staging now shifted toward more positive evaluations.

The show garnered numerous prizes, such as the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical, and a Special Tony Award for “outstanding contribution to the artistic development of the musical theatre.” Hugh Wheeler’s book won a Tony and a Drama Desk Award, while Mark Baker, who was chosen for a Theatre World Award, also got a Tony nomination as Best Featured Actor in a Musical. A Best Featured Actress nomination went to Maureen Brennan, and June Gable received a similar recognition. Lewis J. Stadlen was nominated for Best Actor in a Musical. Harold Prince’s name was attached to a Best Director of a Musical Tony and to a Drama Desk Award for Best Director, Musical. Patricia Birch won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Choreography and Eugene and Franne Lee won a Tony, a Drama Desk Award, and a Joseph Maharam Foundation Award for their scenery. Franne Lee’s costume designs were honored with a Joseph Maharam Foundation Award, a Tony, and a Drama Desk Award

Previous entries:

Abelard and Heloise
Absurd Person Singular
“Acrobats” and “Line”
The Advertisement/
All My Sons
All Over
All Over Town
All the Girls Came Out to Play
Alpha Beta
L’Amante Anglais         
American Gothics
And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little       
And They Put Handcuffs on the Flowers
And Whose Little Boy Are You?
Anna K.
Anne of Green Gables
Any Resemblance to Persons Living or Dead
As You Like It
The Au Pair Man

Baba Goya [Nourish the Beast]
The Ballad of Johnny Pot
Barbary Shore
The Bar that Never Closes
The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel
The Beauty Part
The Beggar’s Opera
Behold! Cometh the Vanderkellens
Be Kind to People Week
Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill
Bette Midler’s Clams on a Half-Shell Revue
Black Girl
Black Light Theatre of Prague
Black Picture Show
Black Sunlight
The Black Terror
Black Visions
Les Blancs
Blasts and Bravos: An Evening with H,L. Mencken
Blue Boys
Bob and Ray—The Two and Only
Boesman and Lena
The Boy Who Came to Leave
A Breeze from the Gulf
Brief Lives
Brother Gorski
Bullshot Crummond
The Burnt Flower Bed
Button, Button
Buy Bonds, Buster

The Cage
Candide (1)