The Clarence Brown Theatre and Knoxville Symphony Orchestra announced Monday morning an ambitious collaboration for 2018 that will be staged thanks to the generosity of a Knoxville multimillion-dollar lottery winner.
"Candide" will be presented in late August and early September 2018 on the main stage theater on the University of Tennessee campus. Next year marks the centenary of famed composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein.
None of it likely would have happened without the help of Roy Cockrum, the Knoxville actor and arts patron who in 2014 hit a Powerball jackpot worth $259 million.
Cockrum since has quietly created a Knoxville-based foundation that supports performing arts projects in the United States produced by non-profit theaters.
Foundation recipients are among the most prestigious companies in America, from the Goodman Theatre in Chicago to the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York.
Cockrum, who attended Northwestern University, was not available for comment Monday.
"This is quite a big deal for him because it's his hometown and it's quite a big deal for us both at CBT and KSO, and I hope it's a big deal for Knoxville," said Cal MacLean, Clarence Brown's artistic director.
Cockrum's help is key, said Aram Demirjian, Symphony conductor.
"We are so, so grateful to the Roy Cockrum Foundation for their support," Demirjian said.
MacLean declined to say just how much money is involved. But the foundation will cover fees for actors and musicians, designers, sets, lighting, costumes and on and on.
"Candide" is a big production no matter who stages it. Suffice it to say, the costs are in the tens of thousands of dollars.
In a statement released Monday, Cockrum said, "We've been helping theaters all over the country make their dreams come true."
Planning already has begun for the production. It's so big - requiring more than 60 actors and musicians plus an estimated 30 to 35 people working behind the scenes during a show - that it'll take months just to assemble the cast and prepare the basics.
Rehearsals will start next summer.
Demirjian and MacLean said they're both fond of the Bernstein operetta and consider it an achievement to stage it.
It's based on Voltaire's novella of a young optimist who sets out on a trip that leads to multiple disasters and setbacks.
Bernstein's rendition debuted on Broadway in 1956. It's undergone numerous changes and productions ever since. While its reception was relatively mute on opening, it has gained in appreciation and stature through the decades.
Demirjian said it and "West Side Story" stand out as Bernstein's most memorable works.
There's always been great debate as to whether the work is a musical or an opera.
"Really, it has in its own way just as much emotional depth, just as much historical depth and symbolic significance as 'West Side Story', even though it's far less known," Demirjian said.
The conductor, selected in 2016 to lead the Knoxville orchestra, considers the music of "Candide" to be miraculous.
"For starters, it's not only an iconic stage work, but it gave us one of the most recognizable pieces of concert music ever - the overture to "Candide", which even if you don't know it, you know it," he said. "The entire work just starts explosively with this incredible burst of energy, this four-minute overture. And then, throughout the course of the evening it's really just the perfect distillation and representation of all the different aspects of Leonard Bernstein's personality, because the story is told in so many different tableaux. Each tableau almost maintains a different musical style."
Clarence Brown and KSO previously have collaborated on "Amadeus" and "Sweeney Todd", both of which were well received by area audiences. "Candide" will be even more ambitious.
"'Candide' is the brass ring," MacLean said. "'Candide is the show I've always wanted to do. And I've always wanted to do it this way - I've always wanted to do it with a full orchestra, not a pit band."
He said the show won't be without risk, but he welcomes risk as a way to grow creatively. The production also will feature some great talent, including lighting design by Jennifer Tipton, a previous MacArthur Foundation "genius" fellow and a Knoxville native.
"There's something chilling about this music, deeply emotional that an audience will not expect, will not be able to anticipate until they actually hear it and see it and feel it," MacLean said.
In many ways KSO and CBT have been working up to this presentation, he said.
"It's a challenge theatrically and I'm looking very forward to meeting that challenge," MacLean said.
Tickets will be available to CBT and KSO subscribers in February 2018. They'll be available to the general public in summer 2018.
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