REVIEWSTheatre ReviewsTom Williams


candide by bernstein and zimmerman

Music by Leonard Bernstein

Book adapted from Voltaire by Hugh Wheeler

Lyrics by Richard Wilbur

Additional lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, John Latouche, Lillian Hellman

Dorothy Parker and Leonard Bernstein

Directed and Newly adapted from the Voltaire by Mary Zimmerman

Choreographed by Daniel Pelzig

Musical Director Doug Peck

At the Goodman Theatre, Chicago

“Candide is exquisite entertainment, a blend of opera, comedy, travel adventure and romance,” said Mary Zimmerman.

Stunning, effervescent and vividly moving adventure marks Mary Zimmerman’s Candide as a theatrical masterpiece of the highest order!

I have seen several fine versions of Candide over the years including a  movingly intimate Porchlight Music Theatre production and an ambitious Light Opera Works production. I must say that Mary Zimmerman’s  Goodman Theatre production finally gives Candide the interruption most true to Voltaire’s novella. Zimmerman’s reworked adaptation brings out Voltaire’s satiric genius that attempts to trivialize the tragedy as it upholds the philosophy of optimism that postulates “that all things happen for the best in this ‘best of all possible worlds.’  Candide is quite funny and visually awesome. It is musically thrilling with Leonard Bernstein’s velvet score. Candid strives to answer the question: How can we deal with disaster without surrendering into despair? How can optimist prevail in a world filled with acts of random cruelty.

candide by bernstein and zimmerman

Mary Zimmerman’s ambitious staging features a mammoth set (designed by Daniel Ostling) with unique lighting (by T.J. Gerckens) with colorful costumes (by Mara Blumenfeld) that kept the fast-flowing production filled with breath-taking surprises as we cheer for Candide (Geoff Packard) as he travels throughout the world in search of his beloved Cunegonde (Lauren Molina).

candide by bernstein and zimmerman

Wonderful music, witty lyrics and brilliant symbolism fuel this most enchantingly beautiful operetta  into both a philosophical satire and  a travel adventure romance. This most difficult show is an artistic achievement filled with a cast of expert singers, charming innocence and deft comics, Candide is an eye-pooping theatrical gem.

candide by bernstein and zimmerman

From the opening scene that finds Dr. Pangloss (the commanding Larry Yando) expounding his belief in pure optimism to the impressionable Candide, we realize that Voltaire’s satire is in good hands as is Bernstein’s music in the hands of Doug Peck’s orchestra.  The elements of an adventure occur when Candide is conned into becoming a soldier in the Bulgarian army.  As his world turns into mayhem, Candide keeps his wits as a true believer. As he always seems to survive all the calamities he’s confronted with, these travels become the focal point for Zimmerman’s masterful  staging. Absurdity, romance, friendship abound throughout.

candide by bernstein and zimmerman

Bernstein’s score sang well here. Among the terrific songs, I particularly enjoyed how Lauren Molina nail the “Glitter and Be Gay” number.  Hollis Resnik steals her scenes as the Old Lady particularly with her sousing “I Am Easily Assimilate” show-stopper. Resnik and Molina wonderfully sing “We Are Women.”  Candide’s Geoff Packard sweetly sings the “Ballad of El Dorado.” Comic turns were terrific by Rob Lindley, Erik Lochtefeld, Tom Aulino, Rebecca Finnegan, Jesse J. Perez and Jonathan Weir.

Geoff Packard’s golden tenor and his boyish charm make Candide as character we root for while Lauren Molina’s Cunegonde is a desirable love interest.  This coming-of-age adventure romance cover three hours of theatrical surprises as we travel along with this boy optimist as  he stays true to his beliefs no matter how much cruelty he encounters.

Zimmerman’s Candide is fast-paced, clearly staged and most entertaining as the battle between pessimism and optimism is vividly staged by a expert cast being true to both Zimmerman and Bernstein’s vision of Voltaire’s biting satire. Mary Zimmerman sure has a handle on making classic texts come alive through her unique artistry. She makes troubled shows stage worthy; she makes musicals and operas into special stylized theatrical events. Her Candide is among her finest works of theatrical art.  Don’t miss this remarkable thrilling phenomenon.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Jeff Recommended

You can listen to my podcast interview with Mary Zimmerman at

At the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL, Call 312-443-3800, tickets  $25 – $85,, Tuesdays thur Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 & 7 pm, Thursday matinees at 2 pm, running time is 3 hours with intermission.

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