Posts Tagged ‘David Thaxton’

I’d only ever seen Candide on a big scale – Scottish Opera at the Old Vic in 1988, the NT in the Olivier in 1999 and the biggest of all, ENO at the ginormous London Coliseum in 2008. So forgive me for a ‘WTF?’ when this operetta was announced as the Menier’s Christmas show.

The theatre’s configuration for this has the audience on four sides with a mezzanine behind them and stage entrances on three sides and this works well (from where we were, but I suspect not for all). There are doors and windows in the mezzanine, with stairs down on two sides. The rest of Paul Farnsworth ‘s clever design is period costumes and the odd prop.

The story of Candide’s adventurous journey from fictitious Westphalia through Holland, Lisbon, Paris, Cadiz, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, mythical Eldorado and Surinam to Venice is completely preposterous, but there’s some lovely music and enough funny business to keep you amused. The four romantic leads are excellent – Fra Fee as Candide, David Thaxton as Maximilian, the lovely Cassidy Janson as Paquette and (under Rule 7 of musical theatre casting, stating that you must have a Strallen) the wonderful Scarlett Strallen.

Unfortunately, they’ve also cast James Dreyfuss as Pangloss and Jackie Clune as Old Lady, neither of whom are up to the roles (particularly when compared with Simon Russell Beale at the NT and Patricia Routledge at the Old Vic!); it undermines rather than ruins it, but its a shame. There’s some good choreography from Adam Cooper no less and good musical standards from the small (for Candide) band of nine under Seann Alderking. Matthew White has staged it with brio and it doesn’t feel its length.

If you go expecting high art, you’ll come out disappointed. If you go expecting musically up-market panto, you’ll have fun. I did.


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This has always been my ‘problem Sondheim’. I don’t find the story at all convincing, so I find it difficult to engage with it. I admire it, but I don’t love it in the way I love most of his shows.

It’s set in 19th century Italy and the story concerns an army officer, his affair with a married woman and the obsession of the sister of a fellow officer with him. The love affair between Giorgio and Clara rings true, but there’s an implausibility about the behaviour of Fosca and the reaction of Giorgio. It’s played for 110 minutes without a break and the music is almost all sung dialogue rather than songs, so it feels like an opera rather than a musical.

On its first London outing 14 years ago, it was a bit lost on a bigger West End stage. A more ‘chamber’ staging here at the Donmar is better suited to the piece and Christopher Oram’s period design is simply superb. Jamie Lloyd’s staging is stunning, elegant and flowing, much helped by Scott Ambler’s brilliant choreography / movement. A perfect combination of period style and elegance.

Elena Roger follows her extraordinary Evita and Piaf with another fine performance as Fosca, but it was David Thaxton who blew me away with a terrific and appropriately passionate performance as Giorgio. Scarlett Strallen (yes, another Strallen – is there a production line?!) also impresses as Clara. In fact, there isn’t a fault in the casting, with every role excellently played and exceptionally sung.  Alan Williams’ small 9-piece string and woodwind dominated band played the gentle lush score beautifully.

Whatever you think of the show, it was and still is original and ground-breaking and here it’s given a definitive production in a theatre it seems to be made for. It won’t be the highlight of Sondheim’s 80th year for me, but I’m very glad I saw it again.

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