AISLE SAY Philadelphia


Music by Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics by Richard Wilbur
Book by Hugh Wheeler
With additional lyrics by
Stephen Sondheim and John Latouche
Directed by Ben Levit
The Prince Music Theater
Chestnut at Broad Street, (1412 Chestnut Street) Philadelphia, PA
Playing through May, 27, 2001
Box Office: (215) 569-9700

Reviewed by Claudia Perry

At the Prince Music Theater only until May 27th, unfortunately, is an exquisitely sung, beautifully mounted production of Leonard Bernstein's "Candide". This is a new staging of the 1974 Broadway version. Using high tech projectors and translucent fabric, set designer Jerome Sirlin has created a deliciously luminous world of light wherein Candide and Cunegonde traverse the globe discovering the mercurial travails of life.

Based on the book by Voltaire, the play follows our hero Candide. As an illegitimate son in the tiny country of Westphalia, he is schooled in ignorance by his teacher Dr. Pangloss to believe that "All's for the best in this best of all possible worlds." Falling in love with Cunegonde, a young lady of fortune, and wishing to marry her, he is summarily banished because of his "bastard" status. While being pressed into military service as a Bulgarian soldier to fight against his beloved Westphalia, his dearly beloved Cunegonde is raped by several brigades of conquering Bulgarian troops. Left for dead, she is carted off and sold as a courtesan. Candide returns to Westphalia to find all is lost. He is then discovered to be a heretic and is taken to Portugal to an Auto Da Fe. Meanwhile in Lisbon, Cunegonde has worked her way up to be the mistress of two powerful and rich men. One is a wealthy Jew and the other is the Grand Inquisitor. Somehow, amid all her jewels she manages to be happy. (This is where she sings the famous, "Glitter and Be Gay".) Attending the Auto Da Fe, Cunegonde spots Candide who is being flogged. She has her Old Lady rescue him and minister to his wounds. Reunited, the lovers set sail for the new world, but they are attacked by pirates and once again separated. Cunegonde ends up in Constantinople and the ever-constant Candide searches until he finds her. They re-find their dearly beloved Dr. Pangloss whom they beseech for wisdom. Unfortunately, Dr. Pangloss has none to offer and the lovers decide to live a simple life the best that they can.

Originally opening on Broadway in 1956 with a libretto by Lillian Hellman the show was not a success, despite the fact that it undoubtedly features Bernstein's most glorious score. It was remounted in 1966 in Los Angeles, in 1971 in New York and in 1972 in Washington with limited success. In 1973 Hal Prince replaced Hellman's libretto with a new, lighter one by Wheeler and the successful show moved to Broadway where it won five Tony Awards. It has since been done by New York City Opera, The Scottish Opera in Glasgow and at the Old Vic in 1989 where it won the Olivier Award for Best Musical. In 1997, directed by Hal Prince, it was once again revived on Broadway.

The role of Cunegonde is magnificently sung by the pretty and petite Anna Christy. Her background is mainly operatic and when she hits the E flat above high C it is just beatific. But she possesses no less ability as an actress and in this role her plucky personality makes her character a delight. She is truly the star of his production. Jose Llana as Candide sings his role elegantly and with a buoyant boyish charm that is quite irresistible. He and Ms. Christy are a perfect pair. Tom Nelis is the hardest working actor in this production, playing Voltaire (our narrator) Dr. Pangloss, the Governor, the Host and the Sage. An actor of extensive versatility, he brings something fresh to each role. I also enjoyed his rich baritone voice, and was distressed when he had to sing out of his range. The chorus was quite exciting to listen to especially during the ensemble numbers "I Am Easily Assimilated" and the exquisite finale "Make Our Garden Grow". The costumes by Miguel Angel Huidor are vibrant and whimsical and stand out against the florid light projections. In all, this is truly a highly successful rendition of Bernstein's greatest musical score. If you are a fan of the music, don't miss this production.

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