BWW Reviews: Life is Happiness Indeed at Molina's CANDIDE Starring Molina

By: Dec. 22, 2010
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Leonard Bernstein. What a composer. What shows do you think of when you see his name? West Side Story? On the Town? Few probably would mention his superb operetta, Candide, based on the novel by Voltaire.

Artistic Director Michael Kahn must be given much credit for presenting the Shakespeare Theatre Company's first ever musical production. But was it a risk? Not when you have the incredible director Mary Zimmerman at the helm who adapted this new re-imagined Candide as a co-production with Chicago's Goodman Theatre.

Candide opened on Broadway on December 1, 1956 and featured the "diva of all time", Barbara Cook and directed by Tyrone Guthrie. Despite fairly good reviews, it lasted only two months. The cast recording, however, became a best seller.

I first became aware of this masterpiece thanks to the Hal Prince production in 1973 where he gutted the entire orchestra of the Broadway Theatre, made it a theater-in-the-round so that actors intermingled with audience members. I recall they even had free peanuts. Prince had playwright Hugh Wheeler rewrite Lillian Hellman's original script. This production lasted two years and starrEd Lewis J. Stadlin with the great Patricia Birch doing the choreography. Prince got help from Stephen Sondheim and John Latouche who added additional lyrics.  Even though I saw this 37 years ago, I remember it fondly and can still picture it.

When I heard that Mary Zimmerman was going to give her interpretation on this classic, I knew I had to see it and I was not disappointed.

Candide's Overture should be quite familiar to many theatergoers.  It can be heard in concert halls throughout the nation. In fact, for the older generation, you may recognize that the old "Dick Cavett Show" theme song was appropriated from the Overture.

The good news is the STC has a twelve member orchestra in the pit under the baton of Doug Peck and with four strings, three reeds, a trumpet, trombone, French Horn and percussion and they sound great. I do wish the Overture had the tempo from the Prince version which is at a break-neck speed.

The story involves the hero "Candide" (played by a terrifically naive Geogg Packard) who in a similar vein as "Around the World in 80 Days", finds himself entangled in a web of calamities that take him from the country of Westphalia to Germany, Bulgaria (where he is forced to join the army), the Netherlands, Portugal, Argentina, Paraguay, Suriname, France, Italy, and Turkey. Throughout his journey, he never falls out of love with Cunegonde (Lauren Molina who reminded me of actress Carol Kane but with a incredible voice and great comedic timing). You will also never forget Cunegonde's brother Maximilian (Eric Lochtefeld) who has so much fun singing "Life is Happiness Indeed". Look for Lochtefeld throughout the evening playing an array of parts.

Candide's mentor Dr. Pangloss (the incredible Larry Yando) survives all sorts of maladies, always the philosopher who's mantra is "Everything is for the best".

Also outstanding are Tom Aulino (Martin), Jonathan Weir (Governor), Jesse J. Perez (Cacambo), and the marvelous Hollis Resnik as the Old Lady.

One particular departure Zimmerman makes is the scene surrounding "Auto Da Fe" which is much darker than the Prince version where it was much more comedic .

I noticed about 6 songs that seemed new to me: "Dear Boy", "We Are Women", "Ballad of Eldorado", "Words, Words, Words", "Money, Money, Money" (not by ABBA), and "What's the Use". These were not included in the Hal Prince production.

Wait until you see "The Red Sheep". I suggested they sell them at the theater's wonderful gift shop. This is by far the best theater gift shop in the Baltimore/Washington area.

At the theater,  pick up a copy of the STC's "Asides" which has some great photos  and articles about the production.

I heard rumors that the show may be extended beyond its closing date of January 9, 2011. I will keep you apprised.

We can only hope this is not the last musical STC tackles. It would be a shame.

According to Zimmerman, "I am hoping that audiences are swept away by the production, that they are extremely entertained and enchanted, but also attentive to Voltaire's satire." All I can say is "Mission Accomplished"!

Candide is at the beautiful Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F. St. NW. For tickets, call 202-547-1122 or visit

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Photo Credit: Scott Suchman


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