Candide**** (Menier Chocolate Factory, 17 January 2014)

Posted: January 19, 2014 in Theatre

candide_menier_chocolate_-446545Another “problem” musical for the Menier to tackle and another miracle performed by them. Here the problem is almost entirely related to the source material – the work of 18th Century French philosopher Voltaire which tells the story of Candide (Fra Fee) and his odyssey around Europe and South America, accompanied at various times by his love, Cunegonde (Scarlett Strallen), his teacher, Pangloss (James Dreyfus) and an old lady with one buttock (Jackie Clune). On their way, they encounter natural disasters, pestilence, torture, multiple deaths and multiple resurrections. For sure this is a comic satire, but it is more than two centuries out of date and, at several points whilst these characters are globe trotting, they leave the audience behind them. Hugh Wheeler’s book cannot overcome the fact that little of Voltaire’s wit and philosophising is relevant to the modern world and calling the story a problem might be charitable; being blunter, it is complete and utter tosh. But enough of the negative. The show is primarily a vehicle for the music of the great Leonard Bernstein and, whilst it is certainly not his greatest work, it is still a significant achievement. In his masterpieces – On The Town, West Side Story, the On the Waterfront soundtrack – Bernstein was on home territory, drawing from the unique influences of New York City. Whilst his score here ranks far above the ordinary, it does not contain anything that is distinctively Bernstein. Richard Wilbur’s lyrics are variable, bland in the romantic ballads, but occasionally – as in The Best of All Possible Worlds and its counter The Worst of… – touched by genius; the credit given to Stephen Sondheim for “additional lyrics” provides a clue as to who that genius could be. The performances are perfection, the highlight being Strallen’s hilarious rendering of Glitter and Be Gay as she plucks jewellery from a chandelier. However, the greatest credit has to go to Matthew White’s staging, choreographed by Adam Cooper. The entire Menier space is transformed into a central European town square, with the audience seated wherever they can fit in on all four sides and what we see is less a show than an exuberant carnival of colour and spectacle. The configuration allows us to view the expressions of childlike delight on the faces of fellow audience members from all age groups and to realise that, for much of the evening, quibbles about the storyline are rendered irrelevant. Problem solved!

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