Tonight I attended a performance of "A Minister's Wife," a musical theater adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's "Candida" with book by Austin Pendleton, music by Joshua Schmidt, and lyrics by Jan Levy Tranen. Marc Kudisch played the minister, Kate Fry played his wife, and Bobby Steggert played the young Eugene Marchbanks, who has a crush on the minister's wife and tries to win her away from him. Also cast were Liz Baltes as the minister's secretary and Drew Gehling as the curate.
My reaction: This is an interesting play that was not crying out to be made into a musical. I enjoyed the play, but my mind switched off and my attention wandered when the songs intruded. Part of the problem may be that the songs struck me as undistinguished; the lyrics were not memorable, the music was not memorable. The only time when I thought the music was actually enhancing things dramatically was during the final scene. I couldn't figure out whether the composer thought he was writing opera or writing musical theater. Musical theater would require something along the lines of catchier tunes, opera would require a bit more complexity. My theater-going companion liked the music and was enthralled by the whole production, but I found it difficult to focus on it. I think I would have preferred just the straight play.
Acting and directing were fine; singing was not so fine. In fact, at times I found the singing a bit painful to listen to from some of the cast. I had no problems with Mr. Steggert, whom I've heard with pleasure before in Yank! and Ragtime. But Marc Kudisch's minister sounded grating to me, and Kate Fry's minister's wife sounded a bit tentative at times. The instrumental ensemble – keyboard, violin, cello, and bass clarinet – was stationed behind and above the play area behind a dark scrim; not so great for coordination. Perhaps the problem for me was the space itself. The Newhouse is a small, semi-in-the-round space, and perhaps it just does not work well for a musical. (The larger space in the upstairs Beaumont theater is fine for a musical, and has the capacity for a real pit orchestra.)
At any rate, I give this one a mixed review.