Lead voices soar in KU's action-packed 'Candide'

Voltaire's "Candide" came to life once again in Kansas University's Crafton-Preyer Theatre in the form of Leonard Bernstein's 1956 musical. Pirates, Jesuits, singing sheep, slave drivers, randy rulers and a collection of fine voices made the hour and 45 minutes -- without intermission -- pass quickly and enjoyably.

The tale of misplaced optimism, narrated by Justin Knudsen and Kate Giessel, takes its characters through one disaster after another, but love and the ultimate resolve to "do the best we know" lead them to a kind of happiness in the end.

From the stirring overture onward, Bernstein's brilliant and light-hearted score rules this comic operetta. Though the set and staging impose darker notes, reminding us that Voltaire's story recounts murders, rapes, wars and earthquakes, these fade against the brightness of the music, even when it sings ("What a day for an auto-da-fe!") of the Spanish Inquisition.

Romantic leads Akiko Imakawa as Cunegonde and Brandon Snook, playing Candide, have the clear and powerful voices needed for their parts. Imakawa handles the coloratura tour de force of "Glitter and Be Gay," high E flats and all, with spirit and poise; and Snook's well-modulated tenor nicely carries both upbeat ("Oh, Happy We") and pensive ("Candide's Lament") numbers.

Dylan Hilpman steals scenes as the self-absorbed Maximilian, reappearing as now a monk, now an officer, now hilariously in drag as a blond-bewigged slave unwilling to go to bed with the lustful Governor who purchases him. The Governor, played by William Hammons, also does a standout job of strutting and singing his way through "Bon Voyage."

The impressive range of Lindsay Ohse's soprano is heard in the evening's first three songs, as well as in the ensemble throughout the production, as she represents the maid Paquette. Evan Grosshans turns in a solid performance in the challenging central role of Dr. Pangloss, suffering misfortunes such as beatings, venereal disease, and hanging -- but still maintaining that "all is for the best."

Past Event

Candide by Leonard Bernstein and Lillian Hellman

  • Thursday, May 5, 2005, 7:30 p.m.
  • Murphy Hall, 1530 Naismith Drive, Lawrence
  • 16+ / $10 - $18

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Alicia Gian as the Old Lady, Cunegonde's rescuer and sidekick, vamps it up with three Spanish Dons in the amusing "I am Easily Assimilated." Several cast members act in two or even three roles, like Meaghan Deiter who appears first as the Baroness and later as one of four irresistible singing sheep. Their charming "Sheep Song" is joined by the Lion, played by Christian Elser, who also is the comic Baron, riding a stick-horse, and the Grand Inquisitor.

The Grand Inquisitor's big scene is the auto-da-fe that follows the Lisbon earthquake, as it does in Voltaire's original story and as it did in the actual Lisbon of 1755, when the Inquisition sentenced and burned persons found to be heretics. Director Tim Ocel's decision to directly represent the Inquisitor as George W. Bush will doubtless please some and offend others, but either way it seems an ill-considered distraction from an otherwise well-integrated show.

Robbie Jones' multilevel set accommodates the flow of action handily, and the always-capable hand of Leslie Bennett is clearly seen in the show's nonstop choreography. The 18-piece orchestra, splendidly conducted by Steven McDonald, plays flawlessly throughout the evening; and the choral ensemble nicely backs up the principals, both musically and dramatically.

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