For a play set in the 19th Century, George Bernard Shaw’s Candida is frighteningly still relevant. Throughout his life, the Irish playwright and critic harbored allegiances to Marxism, gradualism, and, eventually, Fabian Socialism. And during his writing career, Shaw often wrote versions of himself or interpretations of his ideals into his characters.
Although Shaw’s original play is considered one of his best, its narrative — imbued with an element of sociopolitical discourse — doesn’t seem like strong musical fodder. Yet, in 2011, the musical adaption, A Minister’s Wife, opened off-Broadway in New York. Set in London during the same period as the original tale, A Minister’s Wife tells the story of the socialist reverend James Morrell, his strong-willed wife Candida, and the romantic, idealistic poet Eugene Marchbanks. The poet, infatuated with the reverend’s wife, tries to persuade Candida to leave her husband. Naturally, a love triangle ensues.
This week, A Minister’s Wife opens at GableStage at the Biltmore.
Musicals are rare for the theater. A Minister’s Wife is not only the third presentation of GableStage's 2015-16 season but also only the third musical the company has done in 18 years, says producing artistic director Joseph Adler.
“It’s very challenging music,” Adler says over the phone from his office the day before the company was set to begin tech rehearsals. “These are not easy lyrics or easy melodies to sing. It’s not your conventional melodic musical... The music advances the story line and develops character.”
Yet the style of the music and the content of the narrative flow logically and easily. Bookwriter Austin Pendleton (along with music by Joshua Schmidt and lyrics by Jan Levy Tranen) distills the essence of Shaw to just one act than runs 90 minutes. Locally, set designer Lyle Baskin and costume designer Ellis Tillman re-create a period piece with both elegance and relevance.
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"This piece — even though it takes place at the end of 19th Century — is as timely as could be because it deals with a reverend who is a socialist, a Fabian socialist," Adler says. "This issue of socialism is very prominent in our political discussion these days because we have an avowed socialist running for office. And that in itself is very unusual. Then, of course, we have the other issue of people asking if we’re moving too far in that direction.”
So basically, Shaw’s romantic tales and political opinions predated our modern-day standards of feminism, use of Tinder, and popularizing of Bernie Sanders. That's why Adler believes A Minister’s Wife will resonate with contemporary audiences.
"I don’t think anyone can say the issues this reverend brings up and what he stands for are not just as topical and just as meaningful today as they were in England at the turn of the century. And I don’t mean the 20th or the 21st. I mean the 18th or the 19th Century!” he exclaims. “It’s pretty interesting... There are not too many plays that come from that period and were written that long ago that happen to be dealing with issues we’re dealing with today."
A Minister’s Wife
March 26 through April 24 at GableStage (1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables) from . Tickets cost $45 to $60. Call 305-445-1119 or visit gablestage.org.