By Byrne Harrison
With only a passing familiarity with the musical, I wasn't sure what to expect from Provincetown's Counter Productions' version of the Leonard Bernstein, Richard Wilbur and Hugh Wheeler musical Candide. Their small, yet enthusiastic production was delightful.
Director Susan Grilli maximizes the space in the somewhat snug studio by setting the play in the round. Set designer Michael Steers uses the leftover available space - primarily the walls and ceiling - to string lights, bunting, posters, and curtains to decorate the otherwise empty space. The result feels like a festive garden party with a private performance for a handful of honored guests. This combined with the intimate staging (watch your feet!) and the fact that you can observe the other audience members at all times, really makes Candide a group experience. Based on the audience the night I saw the show, the experience was an enjoyable one.
The principals are well chosen, each with an excellent voice. Soprano Nell Snaidas, who is picture perfect as Cunegonde, has a set of pipes on her that won't quit. Her "Glitter and Be Gay" is terrific, and though not my favorite song in the show, makes me appreciate it a bit more. Snaidas shares a good chemistry with Ben Griessmeyer, who makes a particularly eager and earnest Candide. Their "Oh Happy We" is one of the high points of the show. Darlene Van Alstyne is great as the coquettish, yet sadly underwritten, Paquette. Adam Berry, who plays Voltaire, Pangloss, and a rakish Governor, is a strong performer and does particularly well jumping between characters. While I would like to have seen an older actor in this role, Berry does an excellent job, particularly as the pedantic Pangloss. Jon Shee, as the vain and fiery-tempered Maximillian, and Lacey A. Waite as the Old Lady round out the principals. Both are good performers, though Waite's choice of accent for her character does make her hard to understand at times, especially when she is facing away from your section.
Candide features some amazing work by Music Director John Thomas and Brad Conant, Marija Kovacevic and Roxanne Layton, his musicians. The four perform flawlessly, with Layton's work on the recorders particularly well done.
The quality of the ensemble ranges from professional to community theatre. While this gives the production a slightly uneven feel, it also shows that Counter Productions is taking an active role in building its ensemble and providing training for younger and less experienced actors. At only three years old and with 25 productions under its belt, it's exciting to think of what this company has ahead of them.
Sadly there are only two performances left of this charming production (and I hear one is already sold out). If you haven't had a chance to see Candide yet, make your reservations now.
Book adapted from Voltaire by Hugh Wheeler
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics by Richard Wilbur
Directed by Susan Grilli
Musical Direction: John Thomas
Set Design: Michael Steers
Costume Design: Carol Sherry
Drums/Percussion: Brad Conant
Violin: Marija Kovacevic
Recorders: Roxanne Layton
Featuring: Ben Griessmeyer (Candide), Nell Snaidas (Cunegonde), Adam Berry (Voltaire/Pangloss), Lacey A. Waite (Old Lady), Darlene Van Alstyne (Paquette), Jon Shee (Maximilian), Jereme Anglin (Ensemble), Fran O'Neill (Ensemble), Joanie Carney (Ensemble), Stan Cooper (Ensemble), John Stephens (Ensemble), Tim Babcock (Ensemble), Leif Johnson (Ensemble), Chris Brooke (Ensemble)
Counter Productions Studio
237 Commercial Street
July 21-August 13