Tag: Geoff Packard
Zimmerman fills stage with playful imagery
|Goodman Theatre presents|
|Music by Leonard Bernstein
Based on novella by Voltaire
Adapted and Directed by Mary Zimmerman
at Goodman’s Albert Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn (map)
through October 31 | tickets: $25-$85 | more info
Reviewed by Keith Ecker
Mary Zimmerman is the mastermind behind The Goodman Theatre’s new musical production of Candide. The Tony-award winner not only directed the epic, whose plot literally spans years and oceans, but she also adapted the script. Normally, I’m not a fan of one person having such a heavy hand in the development of a drama. Having a separate writer and director has major benefits, namely the benefit of distance from the work. And it is this distance that can fix any glaring errors in the script or add directorial nuances to strengthen the production.
Fortunately, Zimmerman has crafted a cohesive, entertaining and visually stunning piece of work. Thanks to her affinity for levity, Zimmerman saves Voltaire’s classic philosophical narrative from becoming crushed under the weight of its own ideology. I’m amazed that such a sprawling script and dense story can be so digestible.
Candide begins peacefully enough, with Candide (Geoff Packard), a young lad of unremarkable lineage, studying with blue-blooded siblings Cunegonde (Lauren Molina) and Maximilian (Erik Lochtefeld). They are learning metaphysics from their instructor Pangloss (Larry Yando), whose core belief is that this world is the best of all possible worlds. Although wonderfully optimistic, his mantra is also incredibly naïve, a fact that Candide soon learns.
Once the Baron (Tom Aulino) discovers his daughter, Cunegonde, passionately throwing herself at Candide, the young boy is banished (and we witness a scene transition that is surreal as it is stunning). Now Candide is on his own; caught in the middle of war-torn Europe with only Pangloss’ feeble-minded philosophy to guide him from one atrocity to another.
The play does Voltaire’s work justice. Zimmeran does a wonderful job highlighting the short-sightedness of optimism in the face of pervasive human tragedy. For example, the musical’s darkly humorous number “Auto-da-fe,” a song about a town’s eagerness to witness public executions, is instilled with a playful, cartoonish enthusiasm that makes the capital deaths that much more disturbing.
Candide is also very funny. For instance, there’s a running gag with a flock of red sheep, which, although a little silly, provides some light-heartedness to a play that is otherwise filled with people getting maimed and mutilated. There are also some subtle gags, like the use of miniatures to convey the scene’s setting. In one scene in particular, Candide and his travel companions face a storm while at sea. Although the stage does not resemble a boat at all, an actor moves a small boat on a pole to illustrate the tossing and turning of the vessel as Candide and others rock back and forth in unison.
The acting is solid with noteworthy performances from Packard, Yando and Hollis Resnik as the charming and crass Old Lady. Although some performers may fall short of their notes here and there, the singing is still remarkable, considering the amount of energy and endurance that this play requires. Stand out numbers include the hilarious “I Am Easily Assimilated” and the show closer “Make Our Garden Grow.”
Daniel Ostling’s set design is minimal but striking. A large wood-paneled wall occupies all of stage right where secret compartments allow characters and props to easily enter and exit. Trapdoors are used generously, which extends the world of the play farther beyond the extraordinarily roomy stage.
Despite all these positives, there is one flaw to Zimmerman’s work that I cannot overlook. By being so close to this production, she has blinded herself to the fact that by infusing Candide with so much comedic sentiment, she guts the characters of relatable qualities. Actors often indicate rather than act and sport affectations that comment on the work rather than serving as part of the work. In making these characters merely pawns in a farce, we aren’t really invested in them, and thus the stakes for Candide to eventually find his lost love Cunegonde are set so low that we really don’t care whether they’re reunited or not.
Still, Voltaire’s work isn’t so much about separated lovers as it is a commentary on the contemporary philosophies of his day. And Zimmerman’s work is effective at bringing Voltaire’s talent for satire to life. So this drawback does not overshadow the fact that Candide is a very good play, not necessarily the best of all possible plays, but a good play nonetheless.
About Face Theatre’s ‘Winesburg, Ohio’ Musical Opens in KC
Eric Rosen, who wrote book and lyrics for Winesburg, Ohio, directs the musical based on the novel of the same name by Sherwood Anderson about the desire, hopes and dreams of this small Midwestern town’s residents. Performances continue through April 5th at Spence Theatre, one of the performances spaces of Kansas City Repertory Theatre .
The project marks the final Kansas City production of beloved local musical director Molly Jessup, who died March 15 at the age of 66, after a battle with cancer. The music (and additional lyrics) by Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman “is based on a century-old American folk style that is steeped in the land and the people of the Midwest and evokes memories of earlier and simpler times.”
The show was conceived by and developed in collaboration with Jessica Thebus. Winesburg, Ohio had a successful run in Chicago, where it was created, and received a Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Play. A subsequent production in Philadelphia won the Barrymore Award for Best Musical.
The cast of Winesburg, Ohio includes Nancy Anderson (Broadway’s Wonderful Town) as Alice Hindman; Lesley Bevan (of the show’s world premiere for About Face/Steppenwolf Theatre and the Arden Theatre production in Philadelphia) as Kate Swift; Leslie Dennison (of Broadway’s City of Angels) as Elizabeth Willard; Seth Golay (the Rep’s A Christmas Carol, The Pirates of Penzance and The Front Page) as Seth Richmond; Gary Holcombe (the Rep’s in The Drawer Boy) as Wing Biddlebaum; Gary Neal Johnson (an artistic associate at the Rep who has appeared in many productions) as Tom Willard; James Judy (Broadway’s Into the Woods) as The Writer; Jessalyn Kincaid (making her Rep debut) as Young Elizabeth; resident actress Ashlee LaPine (Our Town at Coterie Theatre ) as Helen White; Geoff Packard (an understudy in Broadway’s The Phantom of the Opera and the national tour of Wicked) as George Willard; Chicago actor Jeff Parker as Rev. Curtis Hartman, a role he created for the original Steppenwolf Theatre Arts Exchange production and the full-length version for About Face Theatre; Bruce Roach (the Rep’s A Christmas Carol and To Kill a Mockingbird) as Joe Welling; John-Michael Zuerlein (making his Rep debut) as Enoch.
The musicians are Ryan Fisher (guitar I), Aaron Fry (guitar II), Michalis Koutsoupides (conductor/piano), Rick Willoughby (bass) and Michael Winer (violin). All but Fisher, who is from Chicago, are Kansas City performers.
The creative team for Winesburg, Ohio is Molly Jessup (music director), Jack Magaw (set designer), Janice Pytel (costume designer), David Lander (lighting designer), Joshua Horvath (sound designer) and Jennifer Martin (choreographer).
For more information call the Rep box office at (816) 235-2700 or visit www.kcrep.org.
Courtesy of Kenneth Jones of Playbill Online. Photo by Don Ipock Photography
Winesburg, Ohio Opens At Kansas City Rep On 3/20, BroadwayWorld.com