Having seen four versions of "Candide,"
including the opening on Broadway in 1956, two cabaret productions
and a recent Broadway version, I can report that this offering
at the Royal National Theater in London was the best of the bunch.
Imaginative staging by John Caird and Trevor Nunn, who restore
Bernstein's previously-truncated score, captures the effervescent
spirit of this operetta judged the century's best American musical.
Serious composer Leonard Bernstein was also
a brilliant musical parodist, and as Voltaire's picaresque hero
travels the world, so does the score traverse musical fashion
from baroque opera to Latin rhythms to Viennese waltzes to simple
ballads, matched by impertinent lyrics like "What a Day for
an Auto da Fe," by a score of lyricists including John Latouche,
Richard Wilbur, Lillian Hellman, Stephen Sondheim, Dorothy Parker
and Bernstein himself. The metaphor of this
lively production -- apt for a journey around the globe to prove
that "this is the best of all possible worlds" -- is
a group of trunks fitting within each other and representing everything
from school desks where Candide and his beloved Cunegonde are
taught by the optimistic philosopher Pangloss, to a ship where
they sail for the new world, to a chest of money and jewels from
friends in El Dorado. Simple props are assisted by ingenious
lighting that represents the sea where Candide swims for his life
after a shipwreck, the fire of a threatening auto da fe, or a
battlefield where he is the only survivor.
The large cast is headed by multi-talented
Simon Russell Beale as Voltaire and Pangloss, Daniel Evans as
Candide, Alex Kelly as Cunegonde, and Beverley Klein as
the Old Woman. Adding to the charm of the production are
Peter Darling's choreography for the twenty young spirited singers
and dancers, and costumes representing the national dress of eleven
countries, by John and Elsie Napier.
As seen on Broadway and subsequently, "Candide"
was so truncated by anxious, budget-dominated producers,
that the quiet acceptance of the ending came as a jolt, and the
shift in tone was severely criticized. (See the account
of pre-production woes in Pentimento by Lillian Hellman,
who wrote the original book for this musical, after suggesting
to Bernstein their collaboration on a musical "Candide."
Click here to order. ) Now, with the restored barcarolle
sung by six kings as the bridge between the despair of "What's
the Use" and the contentment of the finale, "Make
Our Garden Grow," Voltaire is vindicated! This
must-see "Candide" is a must-bring-to-Broadway.