Welcome to the world of Voltaire in a revival of Leonard Bernstein’s 1956 musical, CANDIDE, opening as a holiday offering at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington. The tale follows a most picaresque trajectory, depicting a battle between forces of optimism and life seen through the lens of the greatest of all possible pessimists. It’s a battle that all too clearly points a finger at our current society where, on the one side, the public reels against Wall Street, Capitol Hill politicians, and all others who spread doom and gloom here and abroad, and on the other side the strange alliance converging between new age spiritualists and the religious right in their evangelical sincerity and determined optimism.
CANDIDE is a production marked by collaboration through the ages and geographically. Bernstein felt it was his best work for the theatre, and, for sheer musicality, many people feel there has never been anything quite as dazzling on stage as some of its musical numbers. Not only did Richard Wilbur, America’s second poet laureate, contribute the original lyrics but Broadway’s king of most musical Tony’s, Stephen Sondheim, doctored other lyrics for one of the revivals. The book’s original writers included Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker and Bernstein himself. Now, Mary Zimmerman, the production’s director, has returned to the source to deepen the bite of Voltaire’s satire, adding length and depth to the tale. CANDIDE has arrived in Washington this December after a run in Chicago as a joint production with Goodman Theatre.
To read a full synopsis of the story, go to the website: www.shakespearetheatre.org
Check out two recent reviews from our members:
Questions for discussion following performance:
- Why does the character Candide hold onto his belief that he is in the best of al possible worlds despite all contraindications?
- Does Bernstein’s spirit of the music seem to ask us to believe there is (only) optimism in the worst of all possible situations? Or is Bernstein reminding us not to cave in too easily to foolhardy optimism? What else are we meant to take from this score?
- Do Mary Zimmerman’s written additions and directorial concept further amplify and enrich the story?
- Why does the story end with the image of the little band of characters settling down to cultivate a plot of earth and the performers singing inspirationally to make “our garden grow” – and then what?