Glee Club branches out in ‘Candide’ comic operetta

This Friday and Saturday, the Dartmouth Glee Club will take the stage not only as singers, but complete opera performers. The Glee Club will be presenting a production of Leonard Bernstein’s comic operetta “Candide,” complete with a full orchestra and choreography.

“Candide,” conducted by Glee Club director Louis Burkot and stage-directed by actor, musician and Broadway veteran David Beach ’86, is a fast-paced, ruckus of a comedy musical that uncovers the journey of its unwaveringly idealistic title character as he seeks ultimate satisfaction with the world. The performance is the Glee Club’s first production of such scale in recent memory.

Part of the challenge of the piece comes from Glee Club members stepping outside their usual roles. The Glee Club usually stands in place while singing; “Candide” offers a theatrical component that challenges the performers to move, act and express on stage. The difficulty of putting on “Candide” also comes from the music, known for its emotional highs and lows, interpreted by smart lyrics and inspiring scores.

“As a chorus, the bulk of what we do usually rests on the group as a whole, with the occasional sprinkling of soloist material,” said Glee Club co-president Evan Ross ’13, who plays the title role of the good-hearted but hopelessly oblivious young man. “But this time we really have to step up our game.”

Some students are also faced with taking on several roles at once during the performance.

“It would be easier if we were just focusing on our songs,” Nathaniel Graves ’13, who plays Candide’s rival Maximilian, said. “I’m switching in and out my principal role and some ensemble parts; we still have to produce in the ensemble, we have to know both.” In the role of Maximilian, Graves embodies the appealing yet stubborn man who tests Candide’s do-good nature.

Glee Club member Margaret Flanagan ’13 will wear many hats during the show, acting as the narrow-minded Baroness and helping backstage as the costume coordinator, bringing in her experience as a work-study milliner to the fore.

Fans of a capella groups might be surprised that this boisterous satire features an array of a capella parts perhaps some of the most beautiful songs in the show are performed without musical accompaniment, students involved said.

Fans of the Sing Dynasty will recognize Amber Dewey ’12, who plays Candide’s love interest Cunegonde, a beautiful young woman plagued by her devious ways. Her role includes “Glitter and Be Gay,” a vocally engaging aria early in the show.

Student artists said that “Candide” will be a culminating experience.

Dewey said she learned of the Glee Club soon after being accepted to the College.

“I was able to sit in on a Glee Club rehearsal and I went to all their events for Dimensions,” Dewey said. “It was a really great thing to have because Dartmouth is such a huge place when you don’t know anybody.”

The Glee Club is made up of about 60 high-level choral singers and has been led by Burkot since 1981. It’s known on campus for its diverse repertoire, spanning from a capella choral works to traditional College tunes.

Zana Thaqi ’13 said she first met the Glee Club at a performance in New York after she had submitted her Dartmouth application with an arts supplement. Thaqi said it was Burkot himself who had revealed that she had been accepted.

Though Thaqi began at Dartmouth as a soprano, she now sings as a mezzo-soprano, “which fits a lot better. It’s like learning a whole new instrument, like learning how to sing in a whole new way,” she said.

In addition to its student members, the Glee Club also includes a loyal band of alumni performers who will also participate in “Candide.”

“It’s awesome that Louis puts on shows with the Glee Club it’s not just a choral group,” Tyler Putnam ’09, a classical vocalist, said. “My most important job in the show is to connect scene A to scene B, because we jump around the world, we go from place to place, scene to scene, people die, people come back to life. I try to make that journey as quick and clear as possible. It’s a fun role.”

Stage director David Beach comes to the production with experience from studies at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and appearances in Broadway’s “Mamma Mia” and shows such as “The Sopranos” and “Rescue Me.”

Beach’s former instructor, Burkot, has always hit the ground running.

“From the day I came, in 1982, I was astonished with the type of student I would be working with,” Burkot said. “I immediately found myself wanting to take them to the highest levels I could.”

The Glee Club will perform “Candide” on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. in Spaulding Auditorium.

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