Local actors Chris Sizemore, Margo Seibert and Tracy Lynn Olivera on being in the cast of Candide
I was elated when I learned that three of my favorite actors in the DC area were appearing in Candide at The Shakespeare Theatre Company. As the musical enters its last week in DC, Chris Sizemore, Margo Seibert and Tracy Lynn Olivera talk about what it’s been like to be in this stunning production, and working with Tony Award-winning Director Mary Zimmerman and Musical Director Doug Peck.
Joel: Introduce us to the characters you play in Candide.
Chris: I play a few different characters: The Orator, The Grand Inquisitor, a Beggar, and a Crook.
Margo: I play the role of Paquette as well as various other ensemble characters.
Tracy: I play a variety of ensemble characters in Candide, including but not limited to: The Orator’s Wife, an Earthquake victim, a rich lady, a poor lady, a Narrator.
Joel: Director Mary Zimmerman has added more of the story from Voltaire’s novella that the original 1956 Broadway production and the 1974 and 1997 NYC revivals. How does her adaptation improve the show?
Margo: Well, I have never seen a full production of Candide other than the Lincoln Center concert version that you can watch on YouTube. So, I’m not sure exactly how it compares to previous productions, but I do know that Mary has an amazing ability in this production of moving seamlessly from scene into song while remaining true to Voltaire and incorporating Bernstein’s stunning score.
Tracy: She has added a lot of material from the source novel that is not typically in the show. I think it makes the show much more honest and real, and less like the “cartoony” older productions.
Joel: What’s it like working with Mary Zimmerman and Musical Director Doug Peck?
Chris: I have enjoyed every minute of working with them both. I came on late so I did not have as much time with them. I have never worked with a Director such as Mary. My first day of rehearsal with her was amazing. She is so descriptive and intelligent. I left the rehearsal and felt smarter and like I was a better actor after one day of rehearsal with her. She describes in great detail what she wants yet she allows the actor to find the way to bring it across and you feel accomplished when you find it. Doug is so amazing at what he does. My rehearsal with him was very quick. Doug knows exactly what he wants to hear and has an amazing ear for finding it. He is brilliant at teaching the language of the music and not just focusing on the notes. They both are absolutely brilliant at what they do.
Margot: It was an incredibly interesting process, unlike any I’ve ever experienced. We started in music rehearsal with Doug, who is a true “actor’s music director.” He was meticulous about Bernstein’s score, always making sure we served the original dynamic and stylistic markings. With highlighter in hand, we would go through the score page by page making sure we accounted for every marking! At the same time, he made learning this score incredibly easy. He used our time so wisely in rehearsal that by the end of the day we had basically committed those songs to memory. It was also such a pleasure to get to see Mary work. When we started this process, we were without a script, as Mary writes her daily pages as we go. Therefore, everyday was different- you checked your mailbox to see what scene was on the agenda. It really made you think outside the box of normal rehearsal and created a very spontaneous/inventive atmosphere in rehearsal room.
Tracy: They’re both fantastic. I can honestly say that Doug Peck is in my top 5 of music directors ever. Both of them are extremely intelligent and encouraging. Mary is an amazing storyteller, and Doug is meticulous without being anal retentive, something difficult to do, especially in a younger music director.
Joel: Margo and Tracy, you appeared in the Goodman production in Chicago. When did you audition and when were you offered your roles?
Margo: I auditioned here in DC, at the Shakespeare Theatre’s open call. I was put on hold for the role later that day and received an email that I had booked the show while in London in May.
Tracy: I auditioned in the spring of 2010 and was offered the role sometime after that.
Joel: Tell me about performing in The Goodman Theatre, and the Chicago audiences.
Margo: What a wonderful experience! The Goodman is an amazing company with a very supportive staff, a gorgeous space, in an amazing city. It was such a fortunate opportunity to be part of a cast that hails from DC, NYC and Chicago because in Chicago in particular, you could really feel (and hear) audience’s love for their local actors!
Joel: Chris, How did you get cast in the DC production?
Chris: I was brought on board during the final week of the Chicago run. One of the cast members left the show to go on tour and I was called to come in as an immediate replacement. So I was then flown to Chicago to watch the show the final week and rehearse while I was there. It was extremely helpful to be able to watch the show and follow the track that I was going to perform. And everyone was extremely helpful that week and very welcoming of me into the show.
Joel: Has anything changed for the Shakespeare Theatre Company production that DC theatergoers will see?
Margo: Yes, there have been a few scenes tweaked, some cut altogether, and some definite changes to the text at the end of the play.
Tracy: The show has been streamlined a bit – some cuts were made for length’s sake, but they also help convey the story a bit better.
Joel: What have been some of the challenges adapting to the new space in Sidney Harman Hall after working at Goodman Theatre?
Chris: Sidney Harman Hall was my first space so it wasn’t much of a challenge for me. Just trying to maintain the same flow that the rest of the cast was used to so that I didn’t cause any obstacles in the road.
Margot: Well, our set is pretty identical, but the backstage life is wholly different, which just takes some adjusting and juggling of set pieces, people, and props! If the audience could only see what happens backstage!!
Tracy: The biggest challenge was teaching the show to the new backstage crew – who have stepped up to the plate in an amazing way. The acoustics are a little different in the Harman as well, so that took a bit of getting used to.
Joel: Let’s talk about that incredible overture that incorporates -“The Best of All Possible Worlds”, “Battle Music”, “Oh, Happy We”, and “Glitter and Be Gay” in it. What do you feel when the orchestra begins playing that amazing overture?
Chris: It gives me chills every night! I love it!
Margo: The sitz probe is probably almost everyone’s favorite day when we all get to hear the music brought to life by some amazing musicians. The sheer powerhouse of sound in the Harman is a stunning tribute to the Overture.
Tracy: It’s funny- I haven’t done a show with an overture in a while. And this is certainly a great one indeed. Mostly though when the orchestra starts, I think, “I should start getting dressed now!”
Joel: Doug Peck called Candide ‘The greatest score ever written for a Broadway musical”. Do you agree? How would you describe Leonard Bernstein’s score for Candide?
Chris: He would know best and I believe it is definitely up there.
Margo: I think you have to go no further than Candide’s celebrated overture to know that you’re in for an evening of stunning music. I feel like, in Candide, Bernstein has the ability to write such gorgeous melodies that really pull at the heart strings. At the same time, he’s able to write jaunty, sharp little numbers that give Candide a dose of reality and usually a kick in the pants along his journey. Learning his music with Doug Peck was also a huge part in my growing appreciation for Bernstein’s talent. We discussed every musical notation written in the score!
Tracy: It’s gorgeous. Of course! It’s so lush and full. Bernstein tells his stories with the music, and I think he was the best at evoking feelings with music alone.
Joel: Which of the songs you sing is your favorite, and which song that you don’t sing – do you wish you could sing in the show?
Chris: I sing in all of the Ensemble numbers. “What’s The Use” is my favorite song. I just have a blast and a lot of fun with the rest of the actors onstage. Any song in this show is something I would love to sing!
Margo: I sing most of the ensemble numbers: “Auto-De-Fe”, “Easily Assimilated”, “Bon Voyage”, etc. My favorite song, hands down, is “Make our Garden Grow”. I don’t want to give away what happens at the very end of the show, but the visual is stunning and singing that song is like saying a prayer.
Tracy: I sing on “Auto-da-fe”, “Easily Assimilated”, Act One Finale, “Make Our Garden Grow” and anything with an ensemble in it, really. My favorite song in the score is “Make Our Garden Grow”, hands down. It’s actually one of my favorite songs in all of musical theatre in general. I wish I could sing on “We Are Women”. I think that song is hilarious.
Joel: Critics have raved about the performances of Geoff Packard and Lauren Molina who play Candide and Cunegonde. I saw them both perform in Rock of Ages on Broadway, and Lauren was amazing in the John Doyle production of Sweeney Todd, where she played Johanna and the cello at the same time. How would you describe their performances, and what do you like the most about their performances?
Chris: Spot on they are both so fantastic at what they do. Their honesty to the roles definitely stands out. The ability they have to be so amazingly consistent shows how talented they both are.
Margo: Both Lauren and Geoff do a fair share of work up there on stage, which is a complete understatement. Geoff, being Candide himself, has a three hour journey on his path to enlightenment about optimism and only leaves that stage twice! And Lauren has to arise onstage covered in bubbles, get dressed, all while singing “Glitter and Be Gay”! Both are incredibly impressing feats as you can imagine. Geoff also couldn’t be a kinder leading man. He is humble and generous and every cast member respects the amount of exhausting work he does on a daily (sometimes twice daily) basis.
Joel: I am a big fan of Hollis Resnik, who DC audiences saw playing Margaret Johnson in The Light in the Piazza last year at Arena Stage. Hollis plays The Old Lady in Candide. How would you describe her performance?
Chris: All I have to say is listen to the applause after every show and that will tell you all you need to know of her performance. She is brilliant!
Margo: Hollis is a show stopper. She was in Chicago and she continues to be so here in DC. It was really inspiring to watch her create the character of the Old Lady at the Goodman. She went all out, physically, vocally, and embodied this fantastic character. You can tell she worked, and continues to work her ass off to play the one-buttock-ed Old Lady.
Joel: This production is visually stunning. What ‘blows you away’ every time you step on stage?
Chris: There are 2 major reveals in this show and every night I just shake my head and think wow I am a part of this. The Set and Lighting are spectacular!
Margo: Mary Zimmerman has an uncanny ability to create fascinating visuals onstage. It’s hard for us to get a true sense of what it all looks like when we’re onstage, but every once and while, during rehearsal, you can step out into the audience and be blown away by the landscapes that come alive in her mind. I love the nighttime ocean scene, the lighting, the underscoring, the quiet calm, feels like you’re there with Candide.
Tracy: It’s funny – I have NO IDEA what this show looks like from the audience. Seriously. I hear it’s gorgeous, though. The set is actually very minimalistic and most of the scenery is lighting and props – it’s hard to gauge what the show looks like when you’re holding a boat.
Joel: Tracy, your husband Evan Casey is also an actor in the theatre. What were some of the challenges you faced and things you liked about being on the road?
Tracy: It’s obviously hard to be away from my husband, but it’s also good to be married to someone in the business who understands your tricky schedule. Being away, though, was kind of like being on paid vacation – but it’s much better to sleep in my own bed.
Joel: Why should DC audiences come to see this production of Candide?
Chris: You have never seen something like this. It’s epic yet simple, beautiful yet gritty, hysterical yet tragic. I guarantee you this show will complete what you need to have “The Best of All Possible Holidays.”
Margo: Audiences have been so delighted as they leave the theatre, saying that this is one of the best shows they’ve seen in years! I think Candide is an exciting choice for the Shakespeare Theatre, as this is their first musical. There is nothing like listening to strong live orchestra, with Bernstein’s music coming alive. And I believe this fantastical journey speaks to all ages. Just as Voltaire’s book is an easy read, when peeled away, layers upon layers of life lessons are revealed.
Tracy: This is a totally new, fresh, and unique production. Trust me – you have never seen Candide like this before!
Candide plays thru January 9, 2011 at Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F Street NW, in Washington, DC.