Lauren Molina A Show-Stopper In 'Candide' Revival NPR's Robert Siegel talks to actor/singer Lauren Molina about her performance in the musical Candide by Leonard Bernstein, now revived in Washington, D.C.
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Lauren Molina A Show-Stopper In 'Candide' Revival

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Lauren Molina A Show-Stopper In 'Candide' Revival

Lauren Molina A Show-Stopper In 'Candide' Revival

Lauren Molina A Show-Stopper In 'Candide' Revival

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NPR's Robert Siegel talks to actor/singer Lauren Molina about her performance in the musical Candide by Leonard Bernstein, now revived in Washington, D.C.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

On the morning of November 1st 1755, a cataclysmic earthquake rocked Lisbon. It shattered houses, Portuguese palaces and Catholic churches full of worshippers. It was All Saints Day.

It also shattered a popular philosophical outlook of the day: optimism. All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. If this is what God has in store for his faithful, how can that possibly be?

The philosophical damage of the Lisbon earthquake lives on to this day, thanks to the French Enlightenment writer Voltaire, who wrote a scathing and hilarious novel about it, "Candide," and thanks to Leonard Bernstein who set Voltaire's story to music.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: "Candide" is a young optimist who pursues his beloved Cunegonde and encounters along the way war, poverty, rape, slavery, prostitution, illness. You name it. This from the overture, recorded by the New York Philharmonic conducted by the composer.

A current production of "Candide" at The Shakespeare Theatre of Washington has a much smaller orchestra, but it features some incredibly clever stagecraft and a wonderfully talented actress playing Cunegonde, Lauren Molina.

Her performance of the number "Glitter and Be Gay" is a show stopper.

(Soundbite of Ms. Lauren Molina singing "Glitter and Be Gay")

SIEGEL: Lauren Molina, welcome to the program.

Ms. LAUREN MOLINA (Actor): Thank you so much.

SIEGEL: And I want you to describe what you are doing on stage as you were singing that song "Glitter and Be Gay."

Ms. MOLINA: All right. Well, in the song, I proceed to go from bubble bath to fully dressed in a ball gown.

SIEGEL: To do this, you're pulling off a very credible comedy and some coloratura soprano singing at the same time.

Ms. MOLINA: Yeah. It's quite a challenge, but now I've done it enough times that it's kind of muscle memory. Within the song, during the first ha-ha, ha-ha-ha-ha's, I get corseted up by the old lady played by Hollis Resnik, and I react with each string pulled tighter and tighter as I whip my hair back.

SIEGEL: You're hitting high notes as she's tightening the strings on the corset.

Ms. MOLINA: Exactly.

SIEGEL: It's just an incredible performance. And in doing that, you are demonstrating talents for musical comedy, very at least a nodding familiarity with opera. How old were you when you figured out that this is what you wanted to do in your life?

Ms. MOLINA: Well, I had always loved to act and sing, but it wasn't until I got to college that I thought I could do this as a career. My father is the assistant principal bassist and personnel manager of the Detroit Symphony. My mother is a dancer. So I grew up in a very artistic household.

But I always was very academic in school, so I didn't think that I wanted to go into the arts as a career. But it sort of cursed me, and I fell into it. But I'm so glad I did. I went to the University of Michigan and got my MSA in musical theater, and one thing led to another. And I got really lucky and landed my first job in Broadway in "Sweeney Todd" two years out of school.

SIEGEL: During which, you're not only singing a part, but this was very unusual and a very well reviewed production of "Sweeney Todd" because a small cast of 10 acted all the parts but also doubled as the orchestra and played the instruments on stage. So you both sang - is it Johanna that you sang?

Ms. MOLINA: Yes. Yes.

SIEGEL: And played the cello at the same time.

Ms. MOLINA: Yeah. What an amazing experience. Patti LuPone actually turned to me on the first day of rehearsal and she goes, you know, it doesn't get any better than this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MOLINA: And Michael Cerveris was like, yup. It's pretty much all downhill from here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Well, where did your cello playing come from?

Ms. MOLINA: Well, I started playing the cello in fifth grade, and in college, I kind of played it in a couple of shows with a few bands. But I never thought I would be able to play it professionally.

And so when the audition came up for "Sweeney Todd," it was the perfect storm of talents needed, and I could not have been more thankful.

SIEGEL: And in your current role as Cunegonde in "Candide," the little hints of making fun of opera that were written into this...

Ms. MOLINA: Definitely. The satire.

SIEGEL: The satire. There was at least a little bit of opera in your singing somewhere way back when.

Ms. MOLINA: Yeah. Well, actually, I studied opera for a year at the University of Michigan before deciding to transfer into the musical theater program. And right now, I study with Candice Goetz in New York and she's fantastic, and she's really opened up my soprano upper register.

In fact, I take an alternate note, an alternate high F above high C, which is a little nuts.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of Lauren Molina singing)

SIEGEL: This is your uppermost?

Ms. MOLINA: Yeah. I mean, I've never really tried to go higher. Sometimes I play up in that whistle tone area, but I don't really know what I'm reaching.

SIEGEL: You've had both in "Candide" and in the Broadway production of "Sweeney Todd" a very special skill set that recommended you to these roles, to be able to play the cello or to play some instrument credibly on stage...

Ms. MOLINA: Yeah.

SIEGEL: ...to be able to, you know, to do the satire of the opera in "Candide." It seems like you made every smart, wise decision in preparing for a career that you could possibly make.

Ms. MOLINA: Well, thank you. That is very nice of you to say. Well, I think it's important as an actor to be very versatile. And I wanted to do it all, if I can. And if somebody wants to hire me and allow me to...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MOLINA: ...then I'm really excited to be doing what I'm doing. I think I have the best job in the world, and I just love what I do.

SIEGEL: Lauren Molina, thank you very much for talking with us.

Ms. MOLINA: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Lauren Molina, the actress who plays Cunegonde in the production of "Candide" at Washington, D.C.'s Shakespeare Theatre.

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