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Candide at Music Theater Works

The Royal National Theatre Version.

Music by Leonard Bernstein.

Book adapted from Voltaire by Hugh Wheeler.

In a new version by John Caird.

Lyrics by Richard Wilbur.

Additional lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, John Latouche,

Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker and Leonard Berstein.

Directed  by Rudy Hogenmiller.

Choreographed by Clayton Cross.

Conductor: Roger L. Bingaman.

Produced by Music Theater  Works (formerly Light Opera Works).

At Cahn Auditorium, Evanston.

Stunning production is a comic operetta fit for an opera house.

Music Theater Works first show of 2017 is, ironically,  Candide an operetta with music composed by Leonard Bernstein, based on the 1759 novella of the same name by Voltaire. The operetta was first performed in 1956 with a libretto by Lillian Hellman; but since 1974 it has been generally performed with a book by Hugh Wheeler which is more faithful to Voltaire’s novel. The primary lyricist was the poet Richard Wilbur. Other contributors to the text were John Latouche, Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman, Stephen Sondheim, among others. Candide is an art piece that isproduced due to its stunning music and terrific singing. Opera houses and schools love this show. The present froduction at Cahn Audirotiumis fabulous! True, it is almost 3 hours long but the quality of the music, singing and fine staging make for a wonderful evening.

With Voltaire (Gary Alexander) narrating the story, the overture becomes filled with the multitude of characters who populate the show in a tremendous opening that pulls us into Candide’s story. With an eight door set featuring two book cases in a brown wooden (design by Adam Verness) and lavish 18th Century costumes by Alexa Weinzierl complete with wigs and tri-corner hats, Candide has a light, frivolous look perfect as a backdrop form Bernstein’s infectious score.

Candide embraces Voltaire’s philosophy of optimism as he proclaims “Life is Happiness Indeed.” No matter what happens to Candide, “The Best of All Possible Worlds” is his credo. Banished from his homeland, captured by Bulgarians, beaten and left for dead by the Spanish Inquisition, robbed of everything he owns and torn repeatedly from the woman he loves, young Candide just won’t give up! After all, everything is for the best in this “best of all possible worlds.”

Ben Barker, as Candide, has the boyish good looks with a winning smile,tall and lean with a fine tenor voice able to navigate Bernstein’s complex score. With charm and innocence to spare,Barker captures our hearts as the naive foolish optimist. The duet, “Oh, Happy We” with Cecilla Lole (Cunegonde) proclaims their love. Lole was equal to the role of Cunegonde who uses her sensuality to survive. She lands “Glitter and Be Gay” deftly and her chemistry with Emily Barnash’s, The Old Lady produced memorable moments. Barnash’s presence produced a wonderful “I Am Easily Assimilated” ensemble number that featured cute dancing and fine harmonies.

Barnash and Lole delivered the satirical “WE Are Woman” effectively while Raymond Goodall’s Cacambo (one of Candide’s trusted friends) demonstrated his excellent tenor range in “Ballad of Eldorado.” The ensemble featured excellent harmonies, cute dances and many funny satirical moments.

Gary Alexander, as Voltaire, did terrific work as the narrator and used his smooth voice effectively. Alexander anchored the story and kept the pace moving coherently. Russell Alan Rowe,  as Martin, landed the cynics point of view nicely to compliment Candide’s rosy philosophy.

Candide is an operetta where the Bernstein music dominates and the lyrics supply humor and emotions. Ben Barker shines as Candide as he marvelously sings “Nothing More Than This.” “What’s the Use” and “Make Our Garden” grow..Barker is a major talent!

Candide is a spectacle where music and lovable characters dominate in a satirical commentary on human values. Optimism and the resilience of the human spirit where nice guys get to finish triumphantly dominate as we rejoice as good wins over evil. The journey is made pleasurable with Bernstein’s masterful melodies played brilliantly by Light Opera’s 24 member orchestra.conducted by Roger L. Bingaman.

Get to see Candide this week only to witness the last major operetta of the 20th Century that has the fun and humor of a traditional Broadway musical comedy with a lush score by Leonard Berstein. This is a glorious production fit for everyone. It is one of the finest shows ever by Musical Theater Works (former Light Opera Works).

Highly Recommended.

Tom Williams.

At Cah  Auditorium, 600 Emerson, Evanston,IL, call 847-920-5360,, tickets $34 – $95, Wed. June 7 at 2 pm, Friday, June 9 at 8 pm, Saturday, june 10 at 8pm, Sunday, June 11 at 2 pm, running time is 3 hours with intermission.