Raleigh Little Theatre’s gala presentation of the new and improved 1974 version of composer Leonard Bernstein’s legendary Broadway musical Candide, with lyrics by Richard Wilbur, Stephen Sondheim, and John Latouche and book by Hugh Wheeler based on Voltaire’s satirical 1759 novella, is a grand an glorious affair, smartly staged by long-time RLT artistic director Haskell Fitz-Simons, crisply choreographed by Nancy Rich, and brilliantly sung by an all-star cast headed Bill Hennenlotter and Katherine Anderson, who play the irrepressibly optimistic title character and his beautiful high-born cousin Cunégonde, who endures all manner of assaults, ravishments, and indignities before the young lovers finally reunite for good in a pastoral finale with a wicked twist at the final curtain.
Bill Hennenlotter and especially Katherine Anderson make auspicious RLT debuts. Hennenlotter has a strong voice and a fine feel for the blackly comic nature of Candide’s perverse predicament in this Best of All Possible Worlds. Anderson, who has a bachelor of music degree in voice performance and musical theater from Meredith College, is a veritable poster child for the Raleigh, NC college’s music program. She can hit all the high notes, as well as deliver a quip with brio.
RLT regulars Brent Wilson and Sandi Sullivan are simply hilarious in key supporting roles. Wilson is a stitch as the show’s narrator, the befogged French literary giant Voltaire, as well Candide’s ever-optimistic but ill-fated tutor Dr. Pangloss. Wilson plays several other roles as well, and makes each of his characters distinct and memorable.
Sandi Sullivan, who plays the buxom and amorous serving wench Paquette, is another RLT crowd favorite who adds to her reputation in Candide; and Drexel Heard II is quite amusing as Cunégonde’s prissy, conceited, and hopelessly self-absorbed brother Maximilian. But it is Maggie Bunce, making a triumphant return to RLT after four years, who steals the show as the crusty Old Lady with the missing buttock. Looking like the reincarnation of Pirate Jenny from Threepenny Opera, Bunce dominates every scene in which she appears.
The gentlemen of the chorus (Patrick Berry, Phil Crone, Edward Freeman, Roy San Filipo, Warren Keyes, Lee King, Alejandro La Rosa, and Tim Wiest) and the ladies of the chorus (Lee Baker, Susan Burcham, Jill Koethcke, Erin Moorman, Erin O’Hara, Kristen Stinnett, Kerry Sullivan, and Eli Warren) also acquit themselves with distinction, stepping up (when necessary) to play important minor characters encountered on Candide’s odyssey that takes him to some of the most dangerous spots in the Old World and the New World.
The witty and imaginative musical staging by director Haskell Fitz-Simons and choreographer Nancy Rich and the robust accompaniment by musical directors Julie Flinchum Bradley and Nancy Wheelan and the RLT orchestra also make this community-theater production of Candide particularly memorable. Moreover, the spectacular multilevel cartographic set devised by scenic designer Rick Young for this globetrotting musical, the dazzling array of 18th century outfits recreated in all their splendor by costume designer Vicki Olson, and the skillful illumination of the action by lighting designer Andy Parks make this a production that looks as good as it sound.
On opening night (June 2nd), RLT’s rendition of Candide earned a (rare for RLT) standing ovation. Only a few (fixable) problems with the set marred an other perfect evening of musical theater.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents Candide Thursday-Saturday, June 8-10 and 15-17, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, June 11 and 18, at 3 p.m. in its Cantey V. Sutton Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $17-$21 ($12 students and seniors), except all seats $10 June 4th. 919/821-3111 or http://www.etix.com/. Note: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive listening devices are available for all shows. Raleigh Little Theatre: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/performances/candide.html [inactive 7/06]. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=2382. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0290155/ (“Live from Lincoln Center: Candide,” 1986) and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0180509/ (“Bernstein Conducts Candide,” 1989).