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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 4, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 23
Candide the best of all possible worlds
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Candide the best of all possible worlds

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN Contributing Writer

Candide
June 13
5th Avenue Theatre


Looking at the long, accomplished list of Candide creators, you'd think that it would be one of the most spectacular musicals in Broadway history. While it may actually hold claim to such a title, it is still one that most people are not familiar with as of yet. Continuing with their tribute to Leonard Bernstein, the 5th Avenue Theatre has done its best to rectify this situation, and in its attempt has brought to the stage a spectacular presentation of a great operetta. Originally written by Voltaire in 1762, this morality play is pure satirical entertainment and is filled with beautiful music.

The storyline for Candide is not a simple one, but it is easy to follow on stage. Candide is a young boy of illegitimate birth armed with a pleasant disposition and an unending vision of optimism. After being thrown out of his home, Candide and his professor Dr. Pangloss begin their world travels. Candide is determined to make a secure life for his love, Cunégonde, a woman of great beauty. His journey takes him from Europe to South America to the legendary El Dorado and back. Along the way, earthquakes, shipwrecks, fires, plague, and even the Holy Inquisition test Candide's optimism, but not even the knowledge that his love has been the mistress of several high officials deters his mission. By the end of his epic journey, Candide has found a balance and has settled into being contented to grow a garden thus avoiding three great evils: boredom, vice, and necessity.

Stanley Bahorek is perfect as the optimistic youth Candide. His countenance radiates expressions of naiveté while delivering a strong, clear voice that can be easily heard. The audience is readily caught up in the youth's innocent nature and we gladly go on this journey of moralistic learning with him. Laura Griffith plays Cunégonde, the beautiful coquette who chooses a life of security over love. Her voice is extremely operatic and positively radiates with her big song "Glitter and Be Gay," as she comically adorns herself with all the jewels she has procured from her lovers. The lyrics can easily be heard and understood and that has a lot to do with the power of this woman's instrument. While the entire cast does a great job (with notable exemplary performances of David Pichette's Pangloss, Billie Wildrick's Paquette, and Mike McGowan's Maximilian), Anne Allgood's Old Lady stands out. This character suffers great misfortune, losing one buttock ("don't ask!") and adds a wonderful comedic vein that is consistently carried throughout the show. Everything this woman does on stage is funny - without trying - as she explains her tragedy and continues to be a loyal servant to Cunégonde.

The sets of the stage are simplistic, but Matthew Smucker's designs add to the show. They don't distract, and that says a lot for a theater piece. This show doesn't need special effects or distracting sets, and despite the musical showing over 20 countries on stage, the travels and transitions are done with great ease. The sets are perfect in that they add to the story but allow the actors to express their talent. In a grand production like Candide, that is great comfort.

The fact that the show is an operetta should not discourage anyone from experiencing such a wonderful production. The maestro Leonard Bernstein brilliantly composed the songs, and they are truly the stars of the show. Over the years, contributing lyricists have included Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman, and Stephen Sondheim, among others, all adding another touch to perfecting this great morphing opus.

Candide was originally presented as an operetta in 1956 and written by Lillian Hellman. The production starred Barbara Cook as Cunégonde, allowing her to introduce the song "Glitter and Be Gay," a song that has become a signature and a staple of Ms. Cook's concerts. In 1974, Hugh Wheeler rewrote the script, aligning it more with the original by Voltaire with direction by Hal Prince. In 1997, another version was mounted, this time with Jason Danieley as Candide, Jim Dale as Dr. Pangloss, and Andrea Martin as the Old Lady. In 2004, PBS's Great Performances aired the musical with Kristin Chenoweth as Cunégonde and Patti LuPone as the Old Lady.

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