Tonight was the first of six performances of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide, running on consecutive weekends (evenings of Dec 28 & 30 Jan 5 & 6, matinees of Dec 31 & Jan 7), presented at the Bluma Appel Theatre by Toronto Operetta Theatre (TOT).
2018 is the Bernstein Centennial, so get ready for lots of his music. For example, in addition to this production the Toronto Symphony will be offering a concert performance of Candide in April.
It’s a problematic work, much loved in several versions. In aiming for satire & deep thoughts there are times when the work appeals more to the mind than to the heart, particularly at the end when I think for all Bernstein’s ambitions he could have done better.
There are at least two ways to come at Candide. If you cast actors who sing you may get conviction & intelligibility, but at the expense of the music. If you cast singers who act, you may get beautiful melodies, but at the expense of good theatre. And there’s also the question of tone (edgy satire or farcical comedy?), one that can go in either direction. With too much drama –actors rather than comedians—they may win the battle for verisimilitude while losing the war for our hearts by being too real.
TOT come deliberately from the musical side, using performers whose voices are bigger than average, even if that means they then resemble old-fashioned operetta or musical-theatre. They wouldn’t look out of place in a Hollywood musical of the 1950s.
Speaking of irony, that means that they’re not hitting you over the head with the politics or the edginess of the story, and so they produce a gentler, sweeter comedy than what I experienced in the lean adaptation I saw a few weeks ago in Barrie, one that leaned much more towards deep thoughts and philosophy.
Sometimes less is more.
Director Guillermo Silva-Marin filled the TOT stage with beautiful young bodies. Handsome Toniatuh Abrego has a lovely light tenor and a very gentle delivery, highly sympathetic in the title role. Vania Lisbeth Chan was an attractive Cunegonde, Kimberley-Rose Pefhany a comical Paquette, Nicholas Borg a strong and professional presence as Voltaire/Pangloss.
Elizabeth Beeler stole the show as the Old Lady, always interesting and hard to ignore: although maybe the part is written that way.
There were times that the stage was full of personnel, all ably prepared for singing, dancing, and telling the story.
It’s from the musical side though that the TOT Candide really works best, prepared & conducted by Derek Bate. From the moment the overture began we were listening to a precise & accurate performance of great integrity, full of energy & at times seeming to raise the roof. The chorus of voices was always full & committed, the effect bold & straight to the heart.
The TOT Candide continues until January 7th.