February 14, 2014
If you did not make it to Wellin Hall this weekend to see the Hamilton College Choir put on Candide, you missed out. Raw student talent combined with well-cast roles made Choir’s Saturday night performance impressive, despite its lengthiness.
Candide originally premiered on Broadway in December of 1956. Various versions of its libretto have been rewritten over the years, the original libretto based on a satire by Voltaire. The Hamilton College Choir performed the John Caird revision of Hugh Wheeler’s libretto, the latter of which was performed in 1973. The music featured in the show can be credited to the great Leonard Bernstein.
In some ways, Director G. Roberts Kolb’s choice of Candide seemed perfectly suited for its audience, comprised of a liberal arts educated community. The philosophical comedy, chock full of such references, preached ideas likely familiar to many a Hamilton classroom.
Candide explores different life philosophies and approaches. Its protagonist, Candide (Gabriel Mollica ’14) has been taught to interpret the world optimistically by his teacher and mentor, Pangloss (Andrew Nichols ’14). But as he lives through various hardships—being deceived into army inscription, seeing riches and losing them, falling in love and losing that—he is forced to question this optimism along with the other liberal ideologies Pangloss has taught him. The work approaches deep questions such as ‘Are all men created equal?’, ‘Does man have free will?’ and ‘What are the limitations that society places upon this free will?’, but not without parodying such deep introspection.
Saturday’s performance was truly a showcase of the talent present within the vocal sector of the Hamilton College music department. Joining Mollica and Nichols in major roles were Mackenzie Leavenworth ’15 as Cunegonde, Jacob Taylor ’14 as Maximilian, William Robertson ’14 as Martin, Benjamin Goldman III ’17 as Cacambo and Maggie Whalen ’14 as the Old Woman. Nichols also played the role of Voltaire, the musical’s narrator.
Throughout the show, Nichols near-perfectly embodied the wise demeanor of the teacher Pangloss and philosopher/storyteller Voltaire, impeccably delivering lines for such a speech-heavy part. Mollica seemed similarly well suited to the part of Candide, and did a laudable job conveying the character’s naiveté and impressionability. As the chambermaid Paquette, Madison Malone Kircher ’14 artfully delivered her character’s sass and mischievous charm. Though clearly a result of good acting, these successful performances should also be credited to wise casting choices by Kolb.
The highlight of Act One came at Leavenworth’s performance of “Glitter and Be Gay.” The number comes at the point in the story when Cunegonde finds herself trapped in simultaneous relationships with the Spanish Grand Inquisitor (Austin Heath ’15) and Jewish banker Don Issacar (Gabe Skoletsky ’16). Though these relationships have brought her happiness in a material form, they have also made her prisoner to the physical desire of these men. Leavenworth’s rendition was compelling and musically impressive, as she climbed and jumped the part’s intimidating octaves.
With the main characters of the show introduced, Act Two passed by more fluidly. Leavenworth and Whalen delivered a simultaneously whimsical and powerful performance of the duo “We Are Women,” as their characters joked around about the power of their femininity. As far as the technical elements of the show, Kolb made appropriate comical use of props to represent the sheep of the Kingdom of Eldorado. At the moment of Pangloss’ revealed survival, Nichols reminded the audience of his talent for jam-packed line delivery with his recounting of Pangloss’ trials and tribulations.
Saturday’s performance had a few minor weaknesses. Some of the sound effects for “King’s Barcarolle” seemed unbalanced, and the pit orchestra at times sounded out of key (notably at the end of the overture). But these small glitches could not distract from many praiseworthy performances by the Hamilton Choir cast, which finished the show triumphantly with a cohesive delivery of “Make Our Garden Grow.”