Performance Review: Candide at the Arden

Voltaire’s Candide
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Directed by Terrence J. Nolen

Strengths … It almost goes without saying: Leonard Bernstein’s musical score. True, there is a story here, and in case you are not familiar with it, here goes: Voltaire’s classic bildungsroman — all dressed up in the finery of an adventure-romance comedy — concerns the young and somewhat naive Candide, who, at story’s beginning, we find rather blindly following his tutor Pangloss’s somewhat bumbled philosophy of optimism: "All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds." Candide (bastard and poor) falls in love with Cunegonde (a fellow pupil of Pangloss, and daughter of a baron), quickly gets kicked out of the house (ahem, caught in flagrante with his newly beloved), and there the adventures begin. Terrible hardships ensue, Candide rethinks this whole idea of "optimism," and a delightful cast of characters are met along the way, with each and every one of them "out-despairing" those that came before … But, oh, the music, performed beautifully by those darlings in the pit. As for the cast, strong performances abound: Liz Filios’s (Cunegonde) delivery of "Glitter and Be Gay" (pictured) is a phenomenon. Ben Dibble as Candide, Scott Greer as Voltaire/Pangloss, and Mary Martello (Old Woman) turn in near-perfect performances. Each and every one of the ensemble pieces (think Big Numbers) are spot on.

Weaknesses … Theater in the round can be a difficult experience for an audience, as words spoken and sung to stage NW are sometimes lost to those sitting stage SE. And one doesn’t desire to miss any words or song — not with such greats as Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker, James Agee, and Stephen Sondheim contributing to the libretto and lyrics. On my particular visit, quite early in the run, the performers seemed to need a few songs to warm up their voices adequately, a shortcoming that will likely smooth itself out as the showings continue.

Verdict … For musical lovers, Bernstein fans, philosophers and lovers, optimist
and pessimist alike. A wicked good performance that may deliver the not-so subtle message that hope can kill you, but at least there’s a good chance you will be getting up in the second act to deliver a rousing good song, and possibly getting a good laugh along the way. Damned sad brilliant misfortune. Ah, c’est la vie.

Through October 19th at the Arden.