Shaw heroine inspires new musical, ‘A Minister’s Wife’
A husband who deeply loves his wife and who believes his marriage is secure finds his belief shaken by a much younger man who also professes to love his wife. That’s the premise of “A Minister’s Wife,” a 2011 musical based on “Candida,” a relatively early play by George Bernard Shaw.
In this West Coast premiere presented by San Jose Repertory Theatre, the husband is the 30-something Rev. James Morell (Christopher Vettel), who has become renowned for his eloquent lectures about Christian socialism.
His wife is Candida (Sharon Rietkerk), who returns home with 18-year-old poet Eugene Marchbanks (Tim Homsley) after being gone for a while. Initially quite shy, the idealistic Eugenesoon declares his love for Candida and challenges the practical James to ask her to choose between them.
Like many other Shaw heroines, Candida can be regarded as an early feminist, a woman who has a strong sense of herself and easily asserts herself. She also has a deep understanding of James and their marriage.
Set in an English parsonage in 1894, the show includes two other characters, the Rev. Alexander “Lexy” Mill (Jarrod Zimmerman), a young curate who’s James’s assistant; and Miss Proserpine “Prossy” Garnett (Liz Baltes), James’s efficient secretary. This musical version of the play omits a sixth character, Candida’s father.
Conceived and directed by Michael Halberstam, the show has melodic music by Joshua Schmidt, sometimes repetitious lyrics by Jan Levy Tranen and a strong book by Austin Pendleton. In general, it follows the play closely and incorporates some of Shaw’s dialogue, yet manages to consolidate everything into 95 minutes with no intermission.
The band also is consolidated with musical director Dolores Duran-Cefalu conducting a violin, cello and bass clarinet from the piano. The musicians sit upstage in Collette Pollard’s elaborate drawing room set (lit by David Lee Cuthbert). Costumes are by Brandin Barón with sound by Steve Schoenbeck.
Everyone in the cast sings and acts well. However, Homsley’s foppish Eugenes lumps, cowers or glares throughout the show, in sharp contrast to James’s forceful bearing. This difference alone could determine Candida’s decision.
Overall, though, it’s a pleasant, enjoyable production.
“A Minister’s Wife” continues at San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose, through July 14. For tickets and information, call (408) 367-7255 or visit www.sjrep.com.