John Wells

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Starting out as a translation specialist with a flair for the theater, John Wells would eventually play a great part in the revision of a Leonard Bernstein opera in which the action involves snacking…
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Starting out as a translation specialist with a flair for the theater, John Wells would eventually play a great part in the revision of a Leonard Bernstein opera in which the action involves snacking on human buttocks. That would of course be Voltaire's Candide, as comfortable as a human cushion for an artist who in the early '60s worked on the infamous Edinburgh Fringe Festival as well as starting a magazine devoted to satire. Wells found his way to the realm of well-known collaborators early on: mystery maestro Agatha Christie worked with him on a musical adaptation of one of her stories, which was unfortunately never produced. Instead, the young Wells went to work for John Neville at the Nottingham Playhouse, adapting Aristophanes for a musical theater project.

The wonderful director Joan Littlewood became an important mentor by 1968, beginning with a staging of Mrs. Wilson's Diary for which Wells wrote narrative and lyrics and Jeremy Taylor provided music. Littlewood and Wells subsequently worked on several more productions through the next decade. In 1978 Wells and rotund, hilarious Robert Morley co-wrote a farce entitled A Picture of Innocence, which they then took on tour in Canada. Wells also wrote for the BBC in a variety of capacities, published books about Margaret Thatcher and the House of Lords, and turned up on television in acting roles. During the late '80s he took part in the Scottish Opera's production of Candide and has also been part of the Birmingham Touring Opera Company's The Magic Flute and the Duncan Weldon presentation of Cyrano at the Haymarket Theatre.

Bernstein himself was inspired by the Scottish Opera production of Candide, neither turning nor sacrificing the other cheek but instead launching a major reworking of the entire show based on what had been done by the wee Glaswegians. This revision was staged by the London Symphony Orchestra at the close of 1989, recorded by Deutsche Grammophon. Bernstein and Wells concocted a new narration that was considered a major improvement -- at least more so than some of the new musical touches ripped off from Tchaikovsky.