A Minister’s Wife Blog EntryGeorge Bernard Shaw once said: “Hell is full of musical amateurs.” Well, fortunately, professionalism was leading the way to heaven at Tudor Court last week. Writers’ Theatre has gathered remarkable array of talent to transform George Bernard Shaw’s 1894 play Candida into a scintillating new musical.
A Minister’s Wife Workshop
A Minister’s Wife tells the story of Rev. James Morell, a Christian Socialist minister who believes himself to be happily married to his wife Candida—until that stability is threatened by the amorous advances of the young poet Eugene Marchbanks. Tony Award nominee Austin Pendleton is responsible for adapting the Shaw play. Jan Tranen is the lyricist and the music is composed by Josh Schmidt, whose musical Adding Machine was an off-Broadway hit last year. The production is directed by Writers’ Theatre Artistic Director Michael Halberstam.
During the last workshop in October 2008, the creative team identified a major hurdle still left to be overcome: the inability of a contemporary audience to fully grasp Morell’s status in Victorian England. The audience Shaw wrote for would naturally know what kind of man he was and the good work he was attempting to accomplish. Christian Socialists were some of the most influential activists in the later 19th century. They were able to preach their cause to people all over the political, social and economic spectrums. However, to an American living in 2009 much of the political landscape of Shaw’s play holds no meaning or relevance. Morell is in fact achieving the contemporary equivalent of preaching both to the NRA and the ACLU and inspiring them to a common cause. Without this insight into Morell’s character, he can come off as slightly comical – a windbag even – which diminishes the dramatic potential of the play’s exciting final scene.
The answer to this conundrum came in the form of a new eight minute opening number, entitled “The Sermon.” To start off the show, we are now treated to a rousing oration from Morell on the ills of society and how Socialism is the way to a better future. As a result, both his good intentions and his talent at earnestly winning over his listeners are on display from the beginning of the musical. Furthermore, it holds almost epic scope as an overture, sweeping us thrillingly into the world of the music setting up all of the major themes.
Kevin Gudahl who is playing Morell, performed a heroic feat learning the sizeable song which was only completed days before the workshop began. Some of the cast had participated in a previous workshop this past October and were familiar with most of the material. Those who were new to the process had the difficult task of learning a significant amount of challenging music in only a week, which I am pleased to say they accomplished magnificently.
The October workshop had been mostly consumed by the task of learning music. This time around, Richard Carsey (Musical Director) and Tim Splain (Assistant Musical Director) were able to utilize two rehearsal spaces and accomplish considerably more in half the time. The speed with which our artists were able to learn the new music allowed for deeper exploration of the text this time around. Characters were developed and motivations established as an increased command over the music empowered the cast to focus on scene work. Jan and Austin were able to subtly shape the words on the page as Michael and the cast brought the scenes to life like never before.
The end result of a week of hard work was astounding. An invited read-and-sing through of the piece on Saturday morning was remarkably polished for such a short rehearsal time. “The Sermon” was very well received and the musical as a whole played better than ever before.
But most importantly, the creative team now has in their possession a musical that is ready for the stage. Some changes may occur before everyone regroups in April, but the development of a new musical that began four years ago is nearing readiness for production. Soon enough, A Minister’s Wife will enchant Glencoe audiences. And it will, I am confident, be a heavenly experience.