Discusses his creation, “The Minister’s Wife”
An exclusive interview by:  Iride Aparicio
Photos courtesy: SJ REP


Multi-awards winning director MICHAEL HARLBERSTAM

SAN JOSÉ, CA— “The GEORGE BERNARD SHAW’s  play we used is called “Candida” (Pronounced phonetically as in the  Spanish language) ) not to be confused with Voltaire’s Candida (Pronounced Candeed) the multi awards winning Artistic Director and co-founder of  Writers’ Theatre, in Glencoe Illinois, tells CULTURAL WORLD BILINGUAL in an exclusive interview. “What we did, JOSH SCHMIDT, JAN TRANEN and AUSTIN PENDLETON and myself, was to make a musical out of this play and we call it “A MINISTER’s WIFE.” 

“The story is about a man and his wife, the young poet that they invite into their house, not necessarily knowing what it means to invite an artist into your home, and the matrimonial chaos it unfolded. In its best way, I think it (the musical) is a celebration of marriage, in its most delicious and  complicated of ways.”

C.W.B:  Is the dialogue in your musical different or is it similar than the dialogue that  SHAW uses in his CÁNDIDA?  

M.H: "You have to abbreviate any dialogue if you want to turn any source material into a musical so that you can set the piece into a civilized amount of time.  Also there is nothing worse that going into a musical, adapted from an original play, that when you see a scene and somebody just taps a song at the end of it. In certain cases, JAN TRANEN (the lyricist) has very skillfully condensed the SHAW’s dialogue so that JOSH (Award-winning composer JOSHUA SCHMIDT) could lift it into music. But AUSTIN (the book’s writer) also had to streamline the play because he really wanted to focus on the love-triangle of the minister, the wife and the poet, so he took a character out, that he felt extraneous, and focused the plot line. So the musical (“A MINISTER’s WIFE)  is a lot of  SHAW but it is more PENDLETON, and I think that it is a testament to AUSTIN’s writing that you can’t really tell the difference between the two.” 

C.W.B:  I understand that you were the person who suggested this play for the musical.

M.H:  “That’s correct.”

C.W.B:  May I ask you why did you selected this particular play?

M.H:  “Sure. Initially, I knew this composer (SCHMIDT).  I had met him in Milwaukee and invited him to come down to my theatre in Chicago to compose music for our plays and I was waiting for him to collaborate in one of our musicals because I think that he is one of the most extraordinary composers that I have the pleasure of being in collaboration with. I started reading through the play (SHAW’s CÁNDIDA, and as I was reading I thought that it may make a nice light piece for us to collaborate with."

“SHAW’s work is so musically calibrated, to begin with.  It draws much inspiration from music.  It reads almost like a piece of music. But you should not take source material and try to transform it into something else unless you have a good reason to do so. And unless you feel like you may add to the composition of the  original material in doing so, and what we felt was that we had an opportunity to add a sort of “contemporary texture” to the piece.”

“The original play is about a woman who has come to terms with her own way of thinking and now wants, to no small degree, to stand along her husband as equals, and in doing so, they have to dialogue what is right and what is wrong with their relationship.”

The Minister’s Wife
L-R CHRISTOPHER VETTEL and SHARON RIETKERK as the minister and his wife.                                                                                  Photo: Tasi .Alabastro

The problem was that there was no vocabulary for the kind of conversation that you or I may have with our spouses (now) in l888, when SHAW was writing this play.  So in a way he (SHAW) is trying to write a play for which there is no precedence and for which there is no vocabulary. So, by adding the music, we feel that we have now added the sensuality and the contemporary sensibility that allows the play to have an even stronger and emotional base to it, not only with the music, but with the orchestration itself in which one can pack a whole texture of psychology that did not exist, because the words did not exist in the day when the material was written.”

C.W.B:  What type (genre) of music did you select for the play?

M.H: "JOSHUA celebrates “new music” in his own right and he was left to his won devices. But because the piece is from l888, he grounded it in a wonderful Victorian milieu so you can hear the music from the time period with a very modern sensitivity to it and then there is a beat, or rhythm. What he is trying to create, is a vocabulary in music where the words did not exist, so he uses a contemporary sound (in the melodies)  with a classical base.”

C.W.B: Do his melodies reflect the characters?

M.H. “You need to work a little harder to appreciate it, so what I will encourage people to do is to lean forward and engage, to allow the music to stimulate them.  It (The music) is not handled to the audience in a plate, but as I can see it, San Jose Rep’s audiences are a very gained crowd, they come ready to have a conversation with the stage. JOSHUA’s music is not easy, like ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER's music, it is more like SONDHEIN/SCHUMAN with a little bit of rock ’n’roll.”

C.W.B: Can you tell us something about the songs' lyrics?

M.H: “They are a condensation of the SHAW.  She (TRANEN) did an extraordinary job in taking these very significant and complicated scenes and focusing them into beautifully, economical, miracle foundation. Consequently, it has the effect of allowing the text in the play and the lyrics to blend seamlessly. Consequently, half way to a song, you realize that they (the characters)  have stopped talking and had started singing and you’re half into the scene when you realize that the song have ended.  It was very important to the writing team that the piece have a seamlessly to it. We actually tried to sustain the tension of the play and push it all the way through, from the opening moments to the end, so that the audience does not have a release to applaud, until the end of the play.”

C.W.B.  As a Director, how do you see the character of Càndida?

M.H.: “I try not to let the audience, ever, have my opinion because I feel that a good Director is more interested in letting them (the audience) have their opinion. What I can say is this: I know that (the name) Càndida means white, and she (the character) is sort of a blank slate. I think that SHAW’s original idea about this woman that everybody else has an opinion about and are trying to impose their opinion upon,  is that she is not who we all thought she was. SHAW called this play a mystery play and there are many mysteries contained in the play and one of them is Càndida.”  

C.W.B.  Can you discuss the character of the reverend and the poet?

M.H.  “I think that they are more easy to talk about. Morell, (the reverend) is a fine outstanding man. He has been a Socialist Christian Minister, a man who takes the idea of taking socialism into Christianity and merging them, and he is a very powerful force in his community, helping the poor and helping rescuing many of his parishioners from the capitalism surrounding them in London, where his Parish is based. But like many great men, he has began to believe his own fame. At the beginning of the play, he is more whole of himself. He is waiting for a challenge, and the challenge comes in the likeliness of the young poet that they invite into their house. Their idea of a poet is someone who can rhyme a phrase, but in this case, they learn a couple of things into the course of the weekend. Eugene Marchbanks (the poet) in SHAW’s play is a true poet, who sees through people’s souls and it is able to describe it in words. He has a very dim view of morale particularly when he falls in love with Morell’s wife.”

CWB. As a multi awards winning Director, what was your most memorable moment?

M.H.  I like to think that success is measured not by accomplishments or honors by by moment to moment, day by day events in our lives.  So, for me the life I am trying to live is an accumulation of truthful experiences and exchanges between me and the people I respect and love.

C.W.B Do you have anything to add?

M.H. "What we hope to do with this play, is a piece that transcends time and period, and hopefully, people will go home and think a little bit more intensely about their own relationships. The piece is about real people, and open to anybody who has been in love and is trying to engage in truthful connections. It is a new production, just for san Jose, using local people and I have been enormously impressed with the quality of the local workers and artists in this city"

The Minister’s Wife 2
A  New York’s class production produced in S.J. using local talent”
Michael Halberstam