Candide Review - Looking for the Best of all Possible Worlds

Pangloss(Larry Yando) teaches his pupils that all things are for the best as the servant(Govind Kumar), Maximillian(Erik Lochtfeld) pay close attention

My husband and I have had a long-standing wish to see Candide. In earlier days, we spent so many hours listening to Candide recordings that the words and music were seared into our brains. But we had never seen it. When it was announced that Candide was the production that would open Goodman Theatre’s 10th year, we were delighted because we would finally have the chance to see the whole story. Our long wait was rewarded with “the best of all possible worlds” in this production.   It was a spectacular performance.  Infrequently performed, this production provides the wonderful music of Leonard Bernstein and modifications by Mary Zimmerman.  Some changes include a reordering of  the sequence of events in the story so it is closer to that of Voltaire’s 1759 novella, Candide, or Optimism, the addition of new songs and more.
Robert Falls, Goodman Artistic Director, said, “Mary Zimmerman’s reinvention of Candide represents, to borrow a phrase, “The best of all possible worlds”.  We certainly thought so. Mary Zimmerman, the Goodman’s Manilow Resident Director, has had vast experience with theatre and with opera (the Met), and the result in the first musical she has directed was captivating.

(l to r)The Baroness(Rebecca Finnegan)servant(Govind Kumar), Maximillian (Erik Lochtefeld), Paquette(Margo Seibert)Candide(Geoff Packard) and Cunegonde(Lauren Molina) gather for their afternoon lesson

Candide is the story of a sheltered and cared for young man who finds himself banishes from his home, drafted into the Bulgarian army and forced to endure relentless disasters of all kinds.  Voltaire’s genius for satire reveals Candide continuing to uphold the teaching of his mentor, Dr. Pangloss, that all things happen for the best in this “best of all possible worlds” despite the horrors he sees around him.

Candide, which was written to highlight political excesses of 18th century France, seemed to Leonard Bernstein and Lillian Hellman to be a means of highlighting the horrors of the anti-Communist Congressional purges of the early 1950’s.  Many famous names were added to this list before Candide opened as a musical in 1956. Leonard Bernstein said of Candide the “There is more of me in that piece than anything else I have ever done.”

Cunegonde(Lauren Molina) and Candide(Geoff Packard) discover and declare their love

Listening to the music of Candide, it is hard to keep the word “opera” from one’s mind so Mary Zimmerman’s comment is very edifying when she says, “ Candide is exquisite entertainment, a blend of opera, comedy, travel adventure and romance”.  

The cast of Goodman Theatre’s production of Candide features Geoff Packard in the title role; Lauren Molina as his princess love, Cunegonde; Larry Yando as Candide’s mentor, Pangloss; Hollis Resnik as the Old Lady; Jonathan Weir as the Governor; Erik Lochtefeld as Maximillian; Margo Seibert as Paquette; Jesse J. Perez as Cacambo and Tom Aulino as Martin. Ensemble members include Spencer Curnutt, Rebecca Finnegan, Govind Kumar, Rob Lindley, Tracy Lynn Olivera, Emma Rosenthal, Thomas Adrian Simpson, Joey Stone, Tempe Thomas and Joseph Tokarz.

Candide(Geoff Packard) is coerced into the Bulgarian army and quickly learns how to use a weapon

For this major revival, Zimmerman has tapped her signature design team— Daniel Ostling (Set), Mara Blumenfeld (Costumes), T.J. Gerckens (Lighting) and Richard Woodbury (Sound). Danny Pelzig choreographs the cataclysmic events that ensue.

Cacani(Jesse J. Perez) and Candide(Geoff Packard) are introduced to the land of Eldorado where they encounter an abundance of wealth

The story is told in commentary fashion and is easy to follow with the sense of chapter heading and commentary as the action moves forward.  The production has an aspect of farce which keeps the audience laughing loudly throughout.
The sets and staging were outstanding; clever, original, and at times amazing and even added to the farcical aspects in many of the scenes. The costumes were perfect. One memorable scene had Cunegonde step out of a bath and proceed to have layer after layer placed on her until she was properly dressed, singing all the while.

Old lady(Hollis Resnik)helps dress Cunegonde(Lauren Molina) as she expresses how to "Glitter and be Gay"

Hollis Resnick as the old woman was captivating with a performance that was nuanced and rich and I was mesmerized as she sang, Easily Assimilated.  Oh, I thought, so that’s what the song is about.  I also loved Lauren Molina (Cunegonde) in Candide’s Lament though her voice was lovely throughout.  Geoff Packard (Candide) has a mellow voice was pleasant. Music Director Doug Peck beautifully tailored Bernstein's score for the cast of 19 and orchestra of 12 enhancing the nearly 30 songs.

Cunegonde(Lauren Molina)and the old lady(Hollis Resnik)sing of the joys of being a woman while two servants(Spencer Curnutt, Tom Aulino)look on

During intermission, I chatted with Holly Stadler, seated near me, and we agreed that the sets and staging were outstanding, the voices spectacular and Bernstein’s music always a treat.  As we talked we disagreed about our favorite Bernstein musical; Holly chose Westside Story, while I chose Candide, but then, they are both wonderful.  Holly is the Dean, College of Education at Roosevelt University.  She has been involved with Willa Taylor, Goodman’s Director of Education and Community outreach in an attempt to work together to help future educators to use various aspects of theatre to engage children in learning.

After being separated for some time, Pangloss(Larry Yando)and Candide(Geoff Packard)are happily reunited

The opening night performance of Candide, launched Goodman Theatre's 10th season.  It is the lynchpin of Chicago's Theatre District in the heart of Chicago established by Mayor Richard M. Daley. More than two million patrons have experienced 127 productions and presentations from an aesthetic and culturally diverse group of artists and companies--including nearly 30 world premieres, of which 25 were new-work commissions--and programs over the past decade.

One narrator(Rebecca Finnegan)speaks of Candide's time spent with the Bulgarian army and demonstrates the spoils of war

The opening night audience greeted this performance of Candide with a standing ovation and enthusiastic applause. This is your chance.  Go see it –three hours fly by and maybe you will figure out how they made their garden grow.

Goodman Theatre
170 N Dearborn,
 (312) 443-3800

Photos: Liz Lauren

P.S. I would be remiss not to mention Petterino’s, next door to the Goodman.  Knowing the three-hour production would end late, we decided to drive and take advantage of the arrangement Petterino’s offers for dinner and a show-$14.00 to park.  What we didn’t realize was that we would be a part of the Bears traffic and therefore arrived an hour later than expected, after having phoned.  Chris Lister, Maitre d’ could not have been kinder.  He greeted us by name, seated us and calmed us, saw to it dinner was served in a timely manner and put us back together so that we could completely enjoy this wonderful production.

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