The Moores School of Music unites faculty and students to end its season at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday with Leonard Bernstein’s operetta “Candide,” a celebratory piece that has crossed the boundaries of musicals and opera. The performance is honoring David Ashley White’s 15 years as a director at UH.
Based on the Voltaire novel, “Candide” features cameos from musicologist Howard Pollack and Director of Jazz Noe Marmolejo as well as Opera Director Buck Ross in his stage debut and alumnus Joseph Gaines, who flew from Pittsburgh to star as Candide.
“The spirit of the piece, and Bernstein’s composition, is a favorite of David White,” Ross said. “It’s an upbeat piece, and consequently it’s a good piece to conclude this whole season and to celebrate David’s years and work with us.”
This only scrapes the surface in terms of contributions, said Choral Studies Director Betsy Weber, the producer of the show. She said this piece was a perfect way to honor White.
“I chose ‘Candide’ because it is so celebratory,” Weber said. “I knew it would offer a fun evening for audience members and, more importantly, for David.”
Performance certificate program student Natalie Woodward plays Paquette, a maid who becomes a reputable prostitute in Venice, and vocal performance graduate student Kyla Knox plays the vain and beautiful Cunegonde, Candide’s love interest. Both agreed that the operetta’s over-the-top antics will deliver.
“We keep going from one crazy scenario to the next,” Woodward said. “I remember my first conversation with Dr. White was about how much he loves Leonard Bernstein, so I think this is a very fitting tribute.”
Gaines, who plays the role of Candide, has had admiration and respect for his mentor and friend since they first met when White became Dean of the Moores School in the late ’90s.
“He has done nothing but encourage me in all of my endeavors, and I know countless other alumni would say the same of him, as well,” he said. “His marvelous spirit brought both great expertise and leadership to the University as a whole.”
After previously performing in a production of “Candide” two summers ago with Opera Theater of Pittsburgh, Gaines said he knows the complexity of the winding emotions his character goes through in this satirical but joyful affirmation of the need to “make some sense of life.”
“I can’t help but identify with Candide as he struggles to find his path in the face of relentless challenges,” Gaines said. “I think anyone can agree that the world is often a very tough place to understand, so there is definitely something in this piece with which absolutely anybody can identify.”
In his debut performance, Ross will play Pangloss, a misguided philosopher whose teachings get him and others into all sorts of trouble.
“It’s been fun — it has been very good for me to put myself in the same position that I put them all the time, so it’s useful in my part,” Ross said. “I knew I wanted to be part of the show. It was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up, and they knew it when they asked me.”
Saturday’s evening will begin with a special benefit dinner in Room 185, with tickets on sale for $100, which includes dinner, concert and reception. Proceedings will create the David Ashley White Endowed Scholarship. Concert-only tickets start at $12.
“David’s tenure as Director of the Moores School was always first and foremost about our students, so there is no better way to honor him than by establishing this scholarship in his name,” Weber said.
Ross said this season has been a great success, and this semester’s final performance will show that.
“Hopefully the audience comes out with a positive aspect of what’s been accomplished at the School of Music over the years, and to recognize what a strong program it is.”
Tickets are $20 for general admission and $12 for students and seniors.