London's influence on American theater is no longer confined to
the classics. In the past three years, Broadway's Tony Awards
nominations have been dominated by London imports such as "Beauty
Queen of Leenane," "Art," "A Doll's House," and "The Chairs"
most of the drama categories. So this year's London offerings may
offer some clues to what's ahead in the United States.
New plays, old musicals, and the venerable Mr. Shakespeare all
contribute to a fine 1999 season. A cerebral drama and a
philosophical musical top the list. "Candide" has had a history as
complex as the tale its original Voltaire novel tells. Its troubled
original Broadway run was in 1956, and it's seen no less than seven
reworkings by composer Leonard Bernstein and various writers,
including Hugh Wheeler, Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker, and Stephen
Sondheim. Finally, the Royal National Theatre has stripped away the
extra layers of labored text, extravagant scenery, and plot-halting
numbers to reveal a glistening jewel. In a new rewrite by director
John Caird and lyricist Richard Wilbur, Candide opens with one large
black trunk onstage. Quickly, characters extract a smaller one, then
a smaller one, Chinese box-style, until seven are arrayed within the
grand circle that outlines the perimeter of the Olivier Theatre.
Supplemented only by colored fabric swaths, those seven trunks
become everything from tables, beds, and altars to horses, canoes,
and drums. This clean design sets the tone for a bold lyrical,
involving three-plus hours that never lags, accented by the soaring
voice of Alex Kelly as Cungonde; Daniel Evans as Candide; and a
jaunty, steamroller turn by Simon Russell Beale as Dr. Pangloss.
Tracing the young hero's journey to prove his mentor's philosophy
that "everything happens for the best," and find his lost love,
Bernstein's solos, duets, trios, choral numbers, and full-company
ensembles bounce from Bavaria, Paris, and Vienna to Paraguay,
Uruguay, and Suriname. Each stop is peppered with spicy songs,
clever dialogue, and an eagerness to wrap satire in an entertaining
London's other unqualified hit, the drama Copenhagen, by Michael
Frayn, also employs a stripped-down production technique - three
chairs, three people - to tell a complex story.
Shifting from the 1920s, until the 1950s, this provocative piece
charts the student-teacher relationship between pioneering
theoretical physicist Niels Bohr and his brilliant pupil Werner
When Bohr found his country, Denmark, occupied by Heisenberg's
Germany during World War II, each man had to weigh moral, political,
and personal choices: Should they offer, withhold, or limit the
sharing of their knowledge with the Germans, which could lead to the
development of the atom bomb?
Michael Blakemore's ever-fluid direction turns dialogue into
action, allowing ideas to stimulate, challenge, and confront our
deepest views on guilt and responsibility. The two-page history in
the play's program is all you need to know to find yourself caught
in this story of strained loyalties, faulty memories, and the role
conscience in the struggle between the quest for scientific
discoveries and their consequences.
Also set during World War II and the decade preceding it, C.P.
Taylor's Good, at the Donmar Warehouse theater, approaches some of
the same subjects with a decidedly more theatrical approach.
The rise of the Nazis at first seems of little interest to Holder,
a professor trapped in an unhappy marriage, tending an infirm
and plagued by hallucinations that include some sort of musical
The arrival of a romantically inclined student, and the equally
disturbing calls to conscience from a Jewish colleague, begin his
slow, tortured progression from a settled, passive intellectual to a
man living with a mistress and accepting a post as an officer in the
German SS. Taylor's mission, to reveal the subjectivity of what one
may define as "good" or "evil," culminates in a chilling final