Doug Peck revamps Candide's score for the Goodman.
At an orchestra rehearsal last week for the Goodman Theatre’s revival of Candide, music director Doug Peck fields a question from a brass player about a seemingly empty measure in the overture. “I didn’t have the heart to cut it, ’cause it’s Bernstein,” Peck says from his piano bench, a small collection of diet soda bottles at his feet. “But you’re right, nothing happens in it.”
The busy, ultratalented musical director, with three Jeff Awards under his belt at 29, is currently nominated for three more for his work last season on the Goodman’s Animal Crackers, Drury Lane’s Cabaret and Writers’ Theatre’s Oh Coward! For his next act, the Chicago native teams with director Mary Zimmerman for a revamp of Candide.
The 1956 adaptation of Voltaire’s novella features a gorgeous score by Leonard Bernstein, but its libretto has long been considered problematic. The New York Times review of the original production accused Lillian Hellman’s book of missing Voltaire’s satiric tone at every turn; multiple attempts to “fix” the libretto have since been made by the likes of A Little Night Music book writer Hugh Wheeler, director Hal Prince and Bernstein himself. Now Zimmerman and Peck take a swing. “We’re going back to the novel and putting the show in the order of the novel, which Lillian Hellman did not do,” Peck says over lunch on the Goodman’s fourth-floor terrace overlooking Dearborn Street.
Peck finds slots for the existing songs in the revised book, and as Zimmerman interpolates new scenes from Voltaire, Peck creates underscoring for them. “I’m not allowed to write anything, but I’m allowed to adapt any themes or cues from the score,” he says, dunking his sandwich in his soup. The Northwestern grad is also writing new orchestrations for his 12-piece orchestra.
“His encyclopedic, wall-to-wall A-to-Z knowledge of Candide has been invaluable,” Zimmerman says, noting that Peck put together fascicles—information packets on every piece of music—for the cast and production team. “The stack is about three or four inches high.”
This summer, Peck and Goodman artistic associate Steve Scott met with the Bernstein estate in New York to get approval for the production’s plans. “They were very cool about it. Every time I’ve met with an estate, they just want to make sure you’re not a crazy person,” Peck says. “Like, the Rodgers and Hammerstein estate said, ‘We once saw a production of Carousel that was set in a concentration camp.’ They want to be sure we’re still treating the music with respect.”
Peck says aficionados will be more surprised by what he’s including than what’s cut. “?‘Candide’s Lament’ was Leonard Bernstein’s favorite song, but they cut it in the original production—they thought it was boring, too much of a ballad. Bernstein fought for the rest of his life to have that song in the show.” Other restored rarities include “We Are Women” and “Quiet.”
Despite her many directing credits, Zimmerman has never before helmed a musical. Peck says that’s a working dynamic he loves, having walked Charles Newell, Nick Bowling and Bill Brown through their first tuners. “These guys bring a real play director’s process to it. I can represent how the form works, how the music works, and show that to them, but they bring their own perspective and freshness.”
For Zimmerman, Peck is “a perfect collaborator,” she says. “If I ever do another musical, I can’t imagine having another musical director. His baseline position is always ‘yes.’”
At this fall’s Chicago Humanities Festival, Peck and his partner, actor and Candide ensemble member Rob Lindley, will produce a concert version of Peck’s dream show, Stephen Sondheim’s Follies. Peck refers to the one-night-only event, featuring Rebecca Finnegan, Hollis Resnik and E. Faye Butler, as “kind of like my audition. Please, someone, I want to do this show!”
Now in previews, Candide opens Monday 27.