Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
“The Light in the Piazza” – Lamb’s Players Theatre
“ Candide ” – Lyric Opera San Diego
AIRDATE: OCTOBER 3, 2008
It may not be spring, but music and romance are in the air. Gorgeous, lyrical music… by the likes of Leonard Bernstein and Adam Guettel , the grandson of the legendary Richard Rodgers. Two dreamy musicals – one old, one new — designed to touch the heart.
Bernstein based his operetta, “ Candide ,” on Voltaire’s 18th century classic, a sarcastic French skewering of philosophy, religion, government and the military. The novella was often banned in its day, and when the musical opened on Broadway two centuries later, in 1956, it was still shocking and provocative. But the score has always been loved, and the comical show makes for a delicious opening of the 30th season of Lyric Opera San Diego.
Directed with gusto and humor by artistic director Jack Montgomery , it’s wonderfully sung, by a large cast, featuring Chad Johnson as the naïve and hapless tenor, Candide , and Laura Portune as his coloratura enamorata , Cunegonde . The costumes, sets, lighting and use of puppetry are a delight. And Lyric Opera general director Leon Natker conducts a marvelous, 32-piece orchestra that highlights Bernstein’s opulent score.
Poor Candide , having been taught by the impossibly optimistic Dr. Pangloss that “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds,” gets a soul-crushing dose of reality as he is tossed around the world. Though beaten and battered, his love for Cunegonde never falters, and after years of suffering and hardship that parody a zillion adventure clichés, the couple is reunited in amorous embrace and less starry-eyed pragmatism.
Stars are definitely in the eyes of Clara and Fabrizio when they meet by chance on the streets of Florence in “The Light in the Piazza.” She’s an American tourist, traveling with her overprotective mother. He’s a passionate Italian who’s drawn to her earnest simplicity. There’s a story behind her innocence, but no one seems to care… except her hyper-vigilant parents. But even her stern, buttoned-up mother recognizes true love when she sees it, and the sheer force of it urges her out of her own shadows and into the Florentine light. Lamb’s Players Theatre has snagged the regional theater premiere of this beautifully heartfelt musical that captured six Tony Awards in 2005. The lush score is masterfully played by an 8-piece orchestra replete with harp glissandos.
Deborah Gilmour Smyth was born to play the role of Margaret Johnson, the mother who learns from her daughter about identity, independence and letting go. Her voice soars in these stirring numbers. Season Marshall is wide-eyed and youthful as Clara, and big-voiced, adorable Chanlon Jay Kaufman is irresistible as Fabrizio . It’s a show that would melt the hardest heart.
So grab your main squeeze and go. It’s an Indian Summer of Love.
“ Candide ” runs through October 5, at the North Park Theatre
“The Light in the Piazza” continues through November 2 at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado .
©2008 PAT LAUNER