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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 21, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 21
A candid interview with the stars of Candide
Arts & Entertainment
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A candid interview with the stars of Candide

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN Contributing Writer

Candide
5th Avenue Theatre
May 25-June 13


Candide is one of those musicals that you have heard of but probably haven't seen. You may recognize one or two songs - maybe "Glitter and Be Gay" or "Make Our Garden Grow" - but most likely haven't heard a complete recording. There are many reasons why this may be. Contributors to the musical read like an extensive "who's who" of creative genius: music by Leonard Bernstein, scripts written by Lillian Hellman and Hugh Wheeler, and lyrics credited to Dorothy Parker, John La Touche, and Stephen Sondheim, to name a few. The performers are just as incredible, with songs sung by Barbara Cook, Kristen Chenoweth, Patti LuPone, and Madeline Kahn, among many others. But despite the creative lists associated with the different productions, Candide never seems to catch on, and has been resolved to take its place among theatrical cult classics.

The 5th Avenue Theatre will shortly be taking on this amorphous musical. Two prominent cast members, Stanley Bahorek (Candide) and Mike McGowan (Maximilian), took time from their rehearsals to give the SGN a few insights into the show.

Eric Andrews-Katz: Gentlemen, whom do you play, and will you describe your characters?

Stanley Bahorek: I play Candide, and he's the physical embodiment of youth itself, pure philosophical optimism.

Mike McGowan: I play Maximilian [and several other roles]. He's kind of a cross between Jack McFarland and Nellie Olsen.

Andrews-Katz: There are several different incarnations of Candide. Which version is the 5th Avenue's production based on?

Bahorek: More of the 1999 Royal National Theater version revised by John Caird. Caird wrote a new book for the story, closer to the actual Voltaire novel.

McGowan: There is more music in this version.

Andrews-Katz: Would you consider the show to be a musical, or more of an operetta?

Bahorek: It's being treated and approached as a contemporary musical.

McGowan: It's more of a personal interpretation opposed to previous renditions. We do everything that musical theater can do for storytelling.

Andrews-Katz: What is the greatest contribution to Candide: Voltaire's script, either script adaptation, or the long list of lyricists?

Bahorek: I think the fact that so many geniuses have worked on the show says it all.

McGowan: Everyone's collaboration helped it evolve. The first time it played [in 1956], it took itself too seriously. In the '70s, it was more with a Monty Python edge. In this edition, we find a fantastic balance between the crazy humor and the sincere spiritual quest that Candide is on.

Andrews-Katz: Candide is a classic show, but many people don't know the story. How do you summarize Candide's adventures?

Bahorek: Epic! It's a hero's quest. He travels the world from the Old European to the New Americas and back again. I think a big part of Voltaire is: How can this idea of optimism survive the world when all kinds of bad things happen to one person?

McGowan: It's a classic example of philosophy, religion, and faith, and how one belief system cannot encompass the beliefs of the entire world.

Andrews-Katz: Candide has a reputation of being one of the most difficult musicals to put on. Why do you think that is so?

Bahorek: In a practical sense, there are a dozen different versions of the show, so it's continually being revisited, edited, and looked at. There's something unsettled in how to tell the story, but it's one of the best scores ever written.

McGowan: Musically, it has some really hard operatic singing. Plus it takes place in over 20 different countries and has scenes dealing with earthquakes, shipwrecks, and the Spanish Inquisition. These things are not told; they are shown to the audience.

Andrews-Katz: The musical is called a "sarcastic/satirical adventure." What societal structure does it poke fun at or mock? Bahorek/McGowan, in unison: The Catholic Church.

Bahorek: The auto-da-fé is definitely a nod to what was going on at the time: McCarthyism.

McGowan: All organized religions, all dogmatic schools of philosophy, get attacked. It skewers the systems of class.

Andrews-Katz: How does the social satire reflect today's society?

Bahorek: The things that ring truest for me are the ideas of blind faith and how an individual acts when there is global tragedy. In the show, a Grand Inquisitor says that heretics caused the earthquake in Lisbon. It reminded me of Pat Robinson.

McGowan: When tragedies hit, there are religious pontificates that blame different groups for the disasters. It's scary that Voltaire wrote this [in 1759] and it's still happening today in the world.

Andrews-Katz: Voltaire was opposed to the Church and its practices of the times. You've touched on some, but how else does this influence the storyline?

Bahorek: Voltaire doesn't give religion as much importance as he gives to optimism.

McGowan: He doesn't suffer fools gladly. Voltaire saw those kinds of dogmas as being foolish with the hypocrisy they show in their own belief systems.

Candide originally opened on Broadway on December 1, 1956. Despite it only running for 73 performances, it was still nominated for five Tony Awards. A revival was mounted on Broadway in 1974 directed by Hal Prince, and ran for 740 performances. It was nominated for eight Tony Awards and won in five different categories, including Best Book of a Musical. A second revival opened in April 1997, running for 104 performances and was again directed by Hal Prince. This time the musical was nominated for four Tony Awards, only winning one for Best Costume Design.

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