'The Best of All Possible Worlds': 'Candide' Comes to Ohio State

Mar 5, 2018

Credit Opera & Lyric Theatre / Ohio State University

Candide — a show with music by Leonard Bernstein, book by Lillian Hellman, lyrics by Richard Wilbur with help from John Latouche and Dorothy Parker, and based on Voltaire no less — opened on Broadway the night of Dec. 1, 1956.

Here's a fun fact you could live without: It was a Saturday night. How do I know it was a Saturday? Because I was born the next day, and after all, "Sunday's child is fair of face ..."

Yeah, right.

Candide was a flop during its initial Broadway run. But the original cast album, with Barbara Cook, Robert Rounseville, Max Adrian and Irra Petina, has long enjoyed cult status and has never been out of print.

Now Candide returns to Ohio State University, with two performances in Weigel Hall at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 8 and Friday, March 9. David Becker conducts the Ohio State Symphony.

A. Scott Parry, who has been doing great work with the young artists in Ohio State's Opera & Lyric Theatre program, staged this production.

I'm a pain in the bottom about my judgments of what is good and what is not good on the opera stage. I'm entitled. I'm old, and I've been around the operatic ball park a few times. Parry's work has always impressed me.

That said, Candide is a challenge. There is no definitive performing edition.

Hellman had her name taken off the score in 1957. Latouche's lyrics were largely sidelined. Stephen Sondheim added to the text years after the premiere. Bernstein authorized performing editions for opera houses around the world, from New York to Glasgow. Harold Prince revived Candide with bleacher seats and audience participation in New York in the early 1970s.

The full-throated operatic version still plays to packed houses in New York. Bernstein's music, and the bare-bones story of cynicism as fun but tamed by love (sort of), remain. You can't mess with Lennie, much less with Voltaire.

Parry's production of Candide will be played in one act, without intermission. We are promised timely updates that will never interfere with the music.

"The show is still naughty and still a tad vicious," Parry told me. "We are being provocative with our revised text and some updating. Audience members will recognize some current figures on stage. People may be offended; people may walk out."

Indeed, one of the reasons theater exists at all is to be provocative, in the sense of provoking greater thought, underlining what is important.

Regardless, come for the music! See talented young people make the show their own. What's not to love? Hear "The Best of All Possible Worlds," "Glitter and be Gay," "I am Easily Assimilated," "Make Our Garden Grow" and my favorite, the serenade, "My Love."

Here's a great line from the serenade: "Poets have said, love is undying, my love/Don't be misled/They were all lying, my love."

And I'd be remiss not to mention that Candide may be naughty, even nasty. But Candide is funny. And oh, that music!