Music, Leonard Bernstein
Book Adapted from Voltaire by Hugh Wheeler in New Version by John Caird
Lyrics by Richard Wilbur (& Sondheim, Latouche, Hellman, Parker & Bernstein)
After being worked and re-worked for 33 years with many collaborators coming and going (and some now dead) and with some 97 total musical numbers/revisions having been created for it, Candide holds a unique place in great American musical theatre as a never-quite-right but altogether magnificent classic. This Lamplighters’ semi-staged, 2005 version with full orchestra on stage with the 40 actors is a soaring success; every minute of the three-plus hours is full of fun, frivolity, and fabulous music.
Candide sends its title character on a many-year, wild, emotional journey across two continents and the ocean in between as he encounters a circus-load of native innocents, villains, soldiers, royals (past and present), ladies of the night, and buffoons of all sorts. Guided by his mentor’s, Dr. Pangloss,’ philosophy of “optimism,” Candide tries his best to continue to believe that “everything that happens or exits is for the best” even though every calamity and misfortune known to humankind seems to happen to him and to everyone he meets. His wanderings are peppered with usually hilarious, often heart-felt, and mostly disastrous encounters in this version’s well-wrought book. They are enlightened by clever lyrics (so thoughtfully highlighted for this audience on the superscript above the stage) and are threaded together by Bernstein’s beautiful, majestic, and compelling music.
A young, wide-eyed, tenderly naïve Samuel Faustine so ably takes on the title peasant character of Candide; his sweet, clear, and yet powerful-when-needed voice hits its mark in delivering every song he sings. The focus of his love, the to-be-baroness, Cunegonde, is double-cast in this production (due probably to the requirements of her aria-like numbers). Amy Foote is both Lucy-like funny when required and diva-like perfect when called upon to sing. She so well switches her Cunegonde from ingénue to mistress to lady of the night to practical breadwinner as she too gallops the globe. Cary Ann Rosko, her “Old Woman” servant (with only one buttock, “Don’t ask...”), also double cast, brings the house down in laughter time and again as she recounts her life’s woes. Other stock characters who appear here and there as friend and foe are equally adept in comedy and voice. Together with another couple dozen in the ensemble (whose initial white costumes by Melissa Wortman become a cornucopia of international outfits with additions of scarves, hats, tops, etc.), this total cast is just about as good as it can get for a locally based production.
In the end, it is the music that soars to the heavens in Candide. From the first notes of this fine orchestra’s Overture to the entire company’s final a cappella “Make Our Garden Grow,” Bernstein’s music captures and elevates the soul.