Playwright: Austin Pendleton; Score: Joshua Schmidt; Lyrics: Jan Tranen . At: Writers' Theatre,
325 Tudor Court, Glencoe. Phone: 847-242-6000; $40-$65. Runs through: July 19. Photo by Michael Brosilow
A Minister's Wife, now having its world premiere at Writers' Theatre, is a musical that takes its inspiration from George Bernard Shaw's comedy Candida ( not to be confused with the infection ) .
But while the Shaw-inspired My Fair Lady is often held up as the apotheosis of 1950s golden-age musicals, A Minister's Wife is a work that eschews traditional musical theater structures to boldly look toward the future. And like many Shaw works, A Minister's Wife is bound to inspire a few arguments.Read more story below....
A Minister's Wife is composer Joshua Schmidt's follow-up to his widely acclaimed Adding Machine ( co-authored with former Next Theatre artistic director Jason Loewith after Elmer Rice's landmark 1920s expressionist play ) . In condensing Candida into A Minister's Wife, Schmidt makes plenty of structural risks in collaboration with playwright Austin Pendleton and lyricist Jan Tranen.
While much more melodic than Adding Machine, the musical moments in A Minister's Wife aren't clearly defined set pieces. Melodies and speeches flow in and abruptly halt with sharp retorts ( both sung and spoken ) , while applause is actively discouraged.
Some may find A Minister's Wife's snippet-filled musical structure to be infuriating. But I found it to be fascinating as the music weaved in and out to divulge the characters' inner thoughts and to give extra leverage to the arguing at hand.
The central conflict of A Minister's Wife concerns Candida ( Kate Fry ) , the appealing wife to the charismatic Fabian James Morell ( Kevin Gudahl as the Christian Socialist minister ) . A young poet named Eugene Marchbanks ( Alan Schmuckler ) has designs on Candida, and he upends all notions of decorum when he openly declares his love for her.
This threat to typified husband/wife roles and the whole notion of marriage turning people into possessions is masterfully played out by this first rate cast under Michael Halberstam's fine direction ( in fact, the cast and crew could easily have done Shaw's Candida equal justice ) .
Liz Baltes as the all-business secretary Proserpine Garnett and the curate John Sanders as the Curate Alexander Mill provide extra bits of humor, especially when they accuse each other of being besotted with Rev. Morell.
But the heart of the production comes with the main triangle of Fry's Candida, Gudahl's Morell and Schmuckler's Marchbanks. Each shows the drastic emotional stakes that come when their love and fidelity is tested, both in emotionally-wracked spoken and operatically sung dialogue.
While A Minister's Wife might not supercede Candida the way that My Fair Lady has eclipsed Pygmalion in the public consciousness, it proves itself to be a daring musical work. Anyone interested future forms of musical theater shouldn't miss it.