CANDIDE at Baltimore Symphony - It Truly Was The Best of All Possible Worlds!

Many of you are familiar with entertaining and crisp "Overture" to Leonard Bernstein's popular CANDIDE since it was used as the theme song for the "Dick Cavett Show". It is Bernstein at his best.

We have to thank the French novelist Voltaire who penned the 1759 novella.

In 1956 Leonard Bernstein along with playwright Lillian Hellman with lyrics by Richard Wilbur and directed by Tyrone Guthrie first brought the musical to Broadway. It last just two months.

I first became acquainted with CANDIDE when I saw the 1974 revival at the Broadway Theatre directed by Hal Prince which starred Lewis J. Stadlen, Charles Kimbrough, Mark Baker, and Maureen Brennan. Prince gutted the entire Broadway Theatre, took out all the seats in the orchestra and replaced them with bleachers like at a ball park. He even gave out free roasted peanuts in the shell. Some things you never forget. It was a huge success and ran for 740 performances.

Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Company produced a wonderful version directed by Mary Zimmerman in 2010.

When I saw the BSO would present a concert version in June 2015 I waited patiently for this incarnation. Then I read that Tony winning actress Judy Kaye would be coming to Baltimore to play "The Old Lady". I couldn't wait. Kaye got her first Tony for her role as "Carlotta" in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA in 1988. In 1997, Kaye was terrific as "Emma Goldman" in RAGTIME. I became very familiar with Kaye for her role in MAMMA MIA! where she garnered a Tony nomination for her role as "Rosie" which she played from 2001 to 2003. (She deserved this one.) Later she would win another Tony in 2012 for NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT.

Alsop has conducted a version of CANDIDE in 2004 with the New York Philharmonic and that version was tweaked by Garnett Bruce who also directed this adaptation which uses a narrator, a clever touch. National Public Radio's Peter Sagal, sporting a lovely white wig and 18th century finery, sat in a comfortable chair and used a wry sense of humor to add to the fun of this tale. He even made some sly references to his popular radio show "Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me!"

On this occasion, the BSO utilized a nice visual, a map of the world to follow the exploits of the young adventurer "Candide" played wonderfully by Keith Jameson. Soprano Lauren Snouffer played his love interest "Cunegonde" who seemed to have nine lives. Their duets together were a highlight.

The fun role of "Dr. Pangloss" was played adroitly by Joshua Hopkins. Mark Diamond played Maximillian while Curtis Bannister, Andrew McGlaughlin, and Baltimore School for the Arts alumnus Patrick Cook played various roles.

But it was Kaye that the audience was enthralled with. She is a composite performer who whenever she is on stage, takes control.

Alsop led the BSO with gusto throughout the evening and even had a bit part of the festivities with her baton. It was such a pleasure listening to this incredible music with the superb musicians of the BSO. It was clever to put the percussion up front stage right: Chris Williams, John Locke, and Brian Prechtl were easily observed having fun. Wish there was room up front for Principal Timpanist James Wyman.

Kudos to the Baltimore Choral Arts Society led by Tom Hall who contributed to the atmosphere changing into their own costumes in Act II and waving various flags at times (including one Oriole banner).

What a great way to end a season with this spectacular performance which left the concert goers wanting more! The BSO certainly deserved the long ovation at the end. I look forward to many more of these Broadway theatrical productions in the future.

Photo Credit: Charles Shubow

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From This Author Charles Shubow