Famous composer Leonard Bernstein would’ve turned 100 in August of this year, but the School of Music is celebrating early this week with its performance of the satirical musical comedy “Candide.”
Bernstein, most famous for writing the music of “West Side Story,” was a successful American musician, composer, conductor and music educator who lived from 1918 to 1990.
“This guy runs the gamut,” said A. Scott Parry, director of “Candide” and a lecturer in the School of Music. “I want to celebrate his life, I want to celebrate his contribution to music, his contribution to theater, his contribution to arts overall.”
The operetta –– a short opera with a humorous theme and spoken dialogue –– follows the main character, Candide, as he journeys from naive optimism to cynicism to a more mature understanding of the world.
“The thing I cling to with the character of Candide is this idea of he has no layers or filters between the inside and the outside world,” said Dane Morey, actor who plays Candide and a fourth-year in theater and industrial systems management.
The show’s female lead, Cunegonde, also goes on a journey of growing up, although her journey takes a different shape.
“She does have a lot of layers –– greed and temporary desire and a lot of impulsive decisions, not a lot of thought,” said Regan Tackett, a second-year Master of Arts in voice pedagogy who plays Cunegonde. “Learning the consequences of actions is maybe what brings her to maturity.”
The show takes place in a “ridiculous world,” Morey said. In 100 minutes, the plot travels to 15 different countries with the ensemble members constantly changing costumes and characters, making it a theatrically challenging piece.
Bernstein’s operetta is also musically demanding, Parry said, but perhaps the most difficult aspect of the show is the delicate balance between tragedy and comedy in satire.
Parry said he hopes the show will spark conversation by taking on “taboo” topics such as politics, religion and sex.
“You’re going to feel uncomfortable,” Parry said. “It presents a lot of different points of view. It offends, probably, every racial group out there. It offends every gender orientation, it offends every political persuasion. This piece is going to sort of push buttons for every group in the audience –– and it’s meant to.”
Bernstein and writer Lillian Hellman first adapted the piece in the 1950s from the 1759 Voltaire novella of the same name. The pair meant it as a commentary on “midcentury fracturing of American society,” Parry said, a theme that still resonates today.
“I took that and I updated it into a very modern 2018 setting so that you’re gonna see people dressed just like us, you’re gonna see societies that look like us,” Parry said.
A scene originally about the Spanish Inquisition and Catholicism, for example, has been recontextualized as a Texas hoedown with current political figures standing in as the pope, the executioner, and so on.
“Different people are going to respond different ways and different people are going to have a particular investment or problem with different things,” Tackett said.
Although the show tackles a variety of issues, Parry said the show does not take a specific stance other than the idea of openness.
“The lesson that it’s teaching is that every point of view has flaws,” he said. “Every hard and fast position is problematic, is both good and bad somewhere on the sliding scale.”
Although Voltaire’s novella ends in darkness and pessimism, the last five minutes of the show make Bernstein’s production ultimately optimistic with the song “Make Our Garden Grow.”
“‘Make Our Garden Grow’ is, in my opinion, the most uplifting, inspiring, masterful finale of any musical kind of that there ever is,” Parry said. “It’s all about this idea that there’s not good, there’s not bad, we just do our best and we try to work together and we try to do something for a community.”
“Candide” will be performed at the Weigel Auditorium at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday. Tickets are $20 for general public and $10 for senior citizens, Alumni Association members, Ohio State faculty, staff and students.