Directed and adapted from Voltaire by Mary Zimmerman
610 F Street, N.W.
One weekend remains to see Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of “Candide” — it closes Sunday.
The 1956 masterpiece has several gay angles — late composer Leonard Bernstein, contributions from a young Stephen Sondheim and actor/singer/dancer Joey Stone, who came out in high school and who (among various roles) plays an elegant Senor and a raping-and-pillaging soldier in this newest version of Voltaire’s dark satiric novella of 1759. Stone is also dance captain in the show birthed last fall at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre and then transported wonderfully intact to D.C.’s Shakespeare Theatre Harman Hall.
The story itself is familiar, boy meets girl, but then they are sadly parted. Actually, however, in this case, “boy grows up with girl.” Handsome-but-penniless young Candide, who is illegitimate, lives on the estate of his uncle the baron, with his cousin Cunegunde, the baron’s self-absorbed-but-delightfully pretty daughter. They reside in Westphalia, one of those tiny German principalities of the time, where they are taught by the indulgent Dr. Pangloss, to believe that “all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.”
But dark clouds of war threaten and anyway Candide himself is soon dispatched by the baron into exile. From then on, nothing is for the best any longer, as not only war but also earthquake and religious inquisition intervene, and both Candide and Cunegunde travel, mostly separately, through ordeal after ordeal, until their foolish Panglossian optimism is knocked right out of them along with their naive stuffing.
Along their way, both Candide and Cunegunde keep meeting, in various guises, the dark-haired and bearded Stone, who in one of his roles, rapes Cunegunde. In fact, much of the time Stone’s character is party to the “awful price” paid by the young couple during their many ordeals, including in one of the funniest songs, “What a Day for an Auto-da-fe” — literally, execution in the guise of purification to save the deceased’s soul — where Stone lurks darkly among the gang of religious zealots cheering on the capital punishment.
Louisville native Stone began life, he says, with his father in the military, “not too much as a brat, but definitely as an army kid.” While attending the Youth Performing Arts School (a public magnet school in Louisville), “I came out to my friends first,” he recalls now, when he was sure he was then “the only out gay dude in high school.” But he only came out much later to his mother.
He left school at the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music (CCM) after his junior year in 2007 and moved to Chicago “to think outside the box,” he says, no longer satisfied with conventional conservatory study for the performing arts. Almost immediately he began to get parts, at first in “The Rocky Horror Show” — hired, says Stone, “basically the first day I go there.” Other parts soon followed, including as puppeteer and back-up singer in “The Snow Queen” and several other puppet shows.
Living in Chicago, Stone moved on to parts in “Funny Girl,” “Cabaret,” “Mame” and “Sweet Charity,” but continues to dabble in music also, forming his own band, Barack and the Obamas.
“We are hilarious,” he says. “We pay homage to the ’60s girl-groups like Diana Ross and the Supremes.”
He also worked as assistant choreographer for several shows at the House, Chicago’s “environmental theater” performance space. Meanwhile, Mary Zimmerman, winner of a 1998 MacArthur “genius grant” and a 2002 Tony award for Best Director, was busy reinventing Voltaire’s and Bernstein’s “Candide.” Stone auditioned for the cast and was picked and the show, he says, “is exactly what I have dreamed of doing.”
“I sleep with the narrator,” he says, “and I rape Cunegunde,” though he insists that it’s all done “very elegantly, choreographed into a dance, but it certainly is rape.”
As the show’s dance captain, he also has his hands and feet full. He says “the show is not so much dance as it is orchestrated movement, sometimes very much ballroom dance.”
One of his friends in the cast is Lauren Molina, with her superlative soprano who delights as Cunegunde, the ingenue who suffers many stumbles en route to the final resolution when she and Candide vow to cultivate their gardens and give up their naivete about life. But first she must pass through harems and other liaisons as a kept woman, and one of the highlights of the show is her song of self-satisfaction mixed with self-disgust, “Glitter and be Gay.” She confesses she delights in her diamond bracelets, but unlike Mae West is far less fond of what she calls “the awful price” she must pay in bed for those glittering luxuries.
Molina joined recently in Chicago with Stone to produce a music video cover of “Fuck You,” the 2010 hit pop song by hip-hop singer Cee-Lo Green — sometimes edited for radio as “F.U.” or “Forget You,” and performed that way on “Glee.” Their unvarnished version is now a hit on YouTube. Molina also has her own CD, “Sea for Two,” for sale in the Harman Hall lobby. It includes her catchy single, “Gonna Be Alright,” a duet featuring Jeremy Jordan, her former Broadway cast-mate from “Rock of Ages.” The music video for this infectiously fun tune shows them duking it out in a New York apartment.
Geoff Packard, the gorgeous tenor voice for Candide, was also a student at CCM where he admits “I was the only straight guy in my class.”
He graduated in 2003 and just missed Stone who arrived there the next year. Packard, 29 but looking closer to 19, grew up in Brockport, N.Y., near Rochester, and in high school did little with the performing arts, instead playing three sports and a band instrument, though he dabbled in school productions. Packard went on to co-star with Molina in the 1980s-style metal-rock Broadway musical “Rock of Ages” and also has his own CD out – “Fairytales and Fortunes.”