Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

A Minster’s Wife

Based on Candida by George Bernard Shaw

A Minister's Wife

Music by Josh Schmidt

Lyrics by Jan Tranen

Adapted by Austin Pendleton

Directed by Michael Halberstam

Musical Direction by Richard Carsey

At Writers’ Theatre

Stunning and hauntingly beautiful, A Minster’s Wife is a major new operetta

Michael Halberstam has conceived and directed a marvelous new operetta based on Shaw’s 1894,  Candida.  In a collaboration with Austin Pendleton (adapter), Jan Tranen (lyrics) and Josh Schmidt (music), A Minster’s Wife, now in a world premiere at Writers’ Theatre in Glencoe is a stunning work of art!

This musical is really an operetta sung marvelously and staged impeccably that goes to the essence Shaw’s Candida. This 95 minute one act is tightly drawn musical drama about a charismatic socialist preacher, Reverend James Morell (the dashing Kevin Gudahl) and his wife, Candida (the subtle commanding Kate Fry) who are apparently happily married–or are they? We see the Reverend and his secretary (Liz Baltes) and his apprentice minister Alexander Mill (John Sanders) as they dote over the famous preacher.

Kevin Gudhal & Kate Fry
Kevin Gudahl & Kate Fry

From the opening aria, “Sermon” Gudahl and the entire cast sing a sermon outlining the show’s themes. At once we are taken by composer Josh Schmidt’s smooth chamber music utilizing a piano, cello, violin/contractor, clarinet and bass clarinet.  Schmidt’s artful music works well with the hymns and enhances Jan Tranen’s intelligent Shavian lyrics. The rich harmonies gave emotional depth to the work.

Alan Schmuckler & Kate Fry
Alan Schmuckler & Kate Fry

When a young, highly perceptive poet, Eugene Marchbanks (Alan Schmuckler in an intensely truthful performance) becomes bent on rescuing Candida from her domestic routine  drops in for lunch, everyone’s world is threatened. Marchbanks is the conscience of the work as he quickly peels away the Reverend’s fears.  Candida realizes that men are weak and flawed but her best bet for happiness.  Through the marvelous lyrics and haunting music, A Minster’s Wife explodes and exposes the hidden sensuality and repressed feelings of these Victorian folks. Schmidt and Tranen sure do make Shaw sing.

Everyone in the cast had their moments–from Liz Baltes’ stinging comments to John Sanders energetic dedication. Kate Fry and Kevin Gudahl once again prove why they are two of the finest Chicago talents. They sing and act superbly, and  each truthfully portraying their characters . However, Alan Schmuckler game a tour de force performance as the young troubled poet. Schmuckler combined a keen insight with a youthful vulnerability with a hint of fear. He sang wonderfully as did the entire cast.

A Minister’s Wife is a treasure of a show that begs to be seen. I can’t remember seeing such a fabulous new and original chamber operetta. This  astonishing show is a master work of high  musical art. It is a flawless production.

Highly Recommended

Tom Willaims

Jeff Recommended

At Writers’ Theatre, 325 Tudor court, Glencoe, IL

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