Bradley Cooper is joining the Philadelphia Orchestra. Rydal’s own Cooper and British actor Carey Mulligan will narrate the orchestra’s coming performances of Bernstein’s Candide at the Kimmel Center, the orchestra announced Monday.
Both will appear in all three performances, to be led by music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin June 20, 21, and 22.
Why Cooper? The actor and director — much praised for his work as both in the 2018 remake of A Star Is Born — has been preparing to star and direct in a Bernstein biopic, according to the Hollywood Reporter and other publications.
“He’s been spending time with Yannick to learn more about classical music,” said Kevin Newbury, who will direct the Philadelphia production of Candide. “Certainly it’s a win for everybody. It’s exciting that he wants to learn more about staging Bernstein with an orchestra first-hand and to learn more about Bernstein in general,” Newbury told The Inquirer.
Cooper was spied in January in the orchestra pit of the Metropolitan Opera while Nézet-Séguin was leading a performance of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande.
The three Candide performances were nearly sold out even before Cooper and Mulligan’s participation was announced. The orchestra has not yet decided whether it will offer $10 rush tickets for the three concerts, and there are no plans to release a recording, an orchestra spokesperson said.
WRTI-FM (90.1) plans to air the June 22 performance on July 21, a station spokesperson said.
Jamie Bernstein, one of Leonard Bernstein’s daughters, said Monday that the choice of Cooper and Mulligan for this Candide was a result of Cooper’s directing, co-writing, and starring in the Bernstein biopic. “It’s going to be even more interesting to see how he transforms himself into Leonard Bernstein!” she said.
The orchestra Monday also announced the rest of the cast, which will include Alek Shrader as Candide, Erin Morley as Cunegonde, Denyce Graves as the Old Lady, and Kevin Vortmann as Dr. Pangloss/beggar.
Bernstein’s operetta, based on Voltaire’s novella, opened on Broadway in 1956, and in this production will be set in the 1990s — the era, Newbury points out, in which he, Cooper, and Nézet-Séguin came of age.
It is 1992, “at the height of the Clinton-Bush-Perot presidential race,” Newbury says, and everyone is about to graduate high school. There are references to boy band New Kids on the Block, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Dazed and Confused.
“As brilliant as it is, it benefits from some sort of envelope or container to present the story,” Newbury says of Bernstein’s Candide. The auto-da-fé becomes a game of dodgeball, the Old Lady is a wisecracking cafeteria lunch lady, and Nézet-Séguin will be costumed as the leader of a 1990s band.
“We took all of the tropes of high school and embedded them in Candide,” said Newbury. “It will be filled with a lot of social commentary, a lot of things about rape and sexuality and race relations. To have everyone in 19th-century costumes doesn’t really get to the heart of it.”