Adapting a George Bernard Shaw play into a musical production is no new feat: his Pygmalion was the basis for the musical My Fair Lady. However, few adaptations have left audiences so enraptured as the new opera based on Shaw’s Candida.
The synopsis from The Station Theatre’s website reads:
This lovely chamber opera is set in London, 1898, in the swirl of a love triangle among an admired socialist clergyman, his strong-willed and beautiful wife, and an idealistic young poet who aims to win her love.
I talked with director Stephen Fiol about this new and sophisticated musical written by the great and quirky Austin Pendleton. The production kicks off the Station Theatre’s summer season.
Smile Politely: What drew you to the musical?
Stephen Fiol: I so enjoyed my experience directing The Game of Love at the Station in 2012 that I wanted to do another intimate musical this year. A friend, Jackie Lowenstein, suggested I look at A Minister’s Wife, and I immediately knew it had all the elements that “push my buttons:” a small cast allowing for detailed work with actors, a strong book, a well-composed score, and a small pit to fit into the Station.
SP: What can you tell me about your cast?
Fiol: I feel that, if you want a theatre production of volunteers to be an enjoyable experience, one needs to collect very strong talent who will feel challenged and happy to be in one another’s company. To draw strong talent, one needs to have compelling material. Once I had the material, I approached individuals I felt could work well together and who had the talent to sing and act at a high level. Three of my cast — Ingrid Kamin, Timothy Renner, and Christopher Cayari — have either completed or are within their final stage of completing their doctorates in some area of music. Marla Moore will be completing her Masters degree in vocal performance next year, and Lyle Jackson has appeared in numerous operas and musicals at Krannert and in the community. With the exception of Mr. Cayari, I have directed and worked with each individual — several in several past productions. These five individuals are able to negotiate a difficult score with skill and musicianship and a demanding script as acting professionals.
SP: Because the musical is based on George Bernard Shaw’s Candida, there are some wonderful lyrics in the songs. What are some of your favorites?
Fiol: “A touch of affection, in every direction: A means to an end. Yes, enchantment is truly, truly a woman’s best friend!”
“But if I went away with you, Eugene, would you be content? And if I went away with you, Eugene, would you be content with me? And if I go away with you…and if I go away…”
“There’s a secret in my heart shining like the light of the moon, showing me the way beyond…out into the night I go with a secret in my heart.”
SP: The Wall Street Journal called A Minister’s Wife “the most important new musical since The Light in the Piazza.” What do you think makes this such an “important” musical?
Fiol: The composer, Joshua Schmidt, labels this work a “Chamber Musical.” It is a work that combines economy of scale and intimacy with breadth of content and richness of language and musical composition. It is a 90-minute one-act musical that absorbs the essence of Shaw’s three-act play with music added. It is a continuation of a necessary movement toward new works that can be mounted at a time when large casts with multiple sets and large orchestras are financially impractical.
SP: Is there anything else you’d like to share about your production?
Fiol: In addition to the cast and instrumentalists, this production is supported by some of the finest talent in the area: musical director Aaron Kaplan; set designer Moon Jung Kim; lighting designer Susan Summers; assistant director and dialect coach Laura Welle; costume designer Malia Andrus; props by Cindy Havice; producers Gary Ambler and Joi Hoffsommer; cello, Barbara Hedlund; violin, Aaron Schwartz; piano, Ty Tuttle; and bass clarinet, Laura Bauer.
A Minster’s Wife runs from June 4th through 20th. All shows begin at 8:00 PM. Admission ranges from $10-$15, and reservations can be made at stationtheatre.com or by calling 217-384-4000.