Harold Prince is having a third go at Leonard Bernstein's Candide, having revived the show successfully on Broadway in 1974 and at New York City Opera in the 1980. The new production, starring Jim Dale, Harolyn Blackwell and Andrea Martin, opened on Broadway April 29.
If you have seen the show in its latest incarnation, please let everyone know what it looks, sounds and feels like. Be as specific and descriptive as possible. How well does the show express its themes? How well does it capture its milieu -- Voltaire's Enlightenment-era Europe and South America? How are the performances, the dancing, the design elements? How are the songs, and how well do they compare to other Bernstein works?
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Playbill On line thanks all those who took the time to write. Here are the results: From RussHeller:
I saw Candide on the first night of previews at the Gershwin, April 19. The show was excellent and very well arranged/performed/etc. etc. I was very impressed with Hugh Wheeler's book, which was very inventive and extremely funny; especially after hearing that Candide's main problem was the book, like I've heard a couple of other music-oriented shows have (eg. Chess).
I felt the only lull was in the second act where things kind of went out on a limb and the action slowed down considerably. Cunegonde was barely in the second act at all and the song "Quiet" is now sung by Paquette and the Old Lady. Although it is very funny, the word "Quiet" is not in the song, and Paquette was a little difficult to understand. I think it would have worked better back in the Governor's palace in Buenos Aires.
Jim Dale was very good but I could not understand much of what he said, especially during his first two numbers. Harolyn Blackwell couldn't really act, but it didn't really matter. Her voice is beautiful, if a little...light, she didn't take the roof off the Gershwin with the high notes. Jason Danieley was an ideal Candide. Andrea Martin was incredible and her Tony will be well deserved (and YES I did see Lillias White too, Andrea wins). Arte Johnson DID mug a little too much.
I think the main problem with the production was the sound. I was sitting in Row A on an extreme side (but almost nothing was blocked, they staged to ensure that) and during the patter songs (of which there are quite a few) I missed several of the words (especially the Old Lady's two false entrances [the first of which was absolutely hilarious]). Being in Row A, I had the pleasure of scooching back so the leads could walk through my row two times during the night (Candide's Lament and after "What's the Use?"). The second time there were Sheep with Candide and a "Baah"-ing match started up in the audience.
The metaphysical part, with Pangloss...well...I'll let you see it for yourself...it's a little too much for the light-hearted show, not to mention it is a very slow sequence (it takes nearly 10 minutes). The show was hilariously funny, and I felt that they dealt with the death and destruction in an intelligent way, making it as light as Candide's head. They didn't play Hymns and try to make the audience cry when Pangloss was hanged (oh, I didn't give anything away! he comes back 4 or 5 more times), they just played it as part of the story and moved on. Voltaire didn't dwell on these things at all, either. He spent about 1 paragraph on the hanging.
I read the book on a whim yesterday and I found their changes on the text interesting, but unnecessary. They really didn't need to change it around as much as they do. As absurd as it is, they could have used the same plot and scenes, rather than putting in more scenes here or there. They made the part of the Governor a little smaller so that Pangloss could do it too, so that Jim Dale would be eligible for Actor and not Featured Actor. Jim Dale was at his best in "Bon Voyage", so that wasn't such a terrible change. It may have done better to surprise everybody and reinstate Candide's valet in the book, Cacambo, and Pangloss's foil, Martin. With about 90 characters what harm could two more make?
The score is incredible and I have been walking around humming "Make Our Garden Grow", "What's the Use?" and "I am Easily Assimilated" all week. I stopped humming "Glitter and Be Gay" because I don't mess with the trills. Who else? What else? Maximilian (Brett Barrett [brent?]) was great, and I still wonder why they call him that when he wasn't given a name in the book. I guess it's as good a name as any.
Anywho, Candide should pick up Best Revival and Best Featured Actress in a Musical, I don't know if the revisions make it eligible for any book or score awards but if so it'll win them. It may win best Director: it was expertly staged, making great use of the huge cast (each of whom had a body mic) and dancers. I should at least be nominated for Best Actor (Jim Dale), I don't know if Jason Danieley can be nominated for Featured if he is the title character. If he's nominated for Featured, he'll probably win it. It should get a nomination for Set and one for costumes too, maybe win. I did notice that this show cast more for actors than singers (with the exception, of course, of Ms. Blackwell) and I definitely applaud that. Overall I loved the show and I am going to try to see it again next time I hit NYC. I erlly loved how they sold seeds out front so that you could "make your garden grow." Priceless.
As to the point that Prince avoided the cynicism of the show I disagree. There was no cynicism in Voltaire's narration of Candide, all of it came from the characters within the novel. Martin especially. By removing Martin the cynicism goes too. The events narrated in the story go uncolored. Still, the show survives unscathed, and not by becoming mere entertainment either. Many people believe the novel to be silly until they consider what its actual message was. "First, we must cultivate our garden." are Candide's exact words. Voltaire was never so obvious as to let his own cynicism cloud the novel. He based the novel on it and let it be governed by it, but he tells the tale as pure truth that you may derive his cynicism from it. I don't know if that makes sense, but anyway. It is as Hamlet said, "it is but jest, poison in jest."
I only have one other thing to say about Candide. Afterwards my friends and I were in an uncharacteristically groupy mood so we went to the stage door to talk to the cast and get a few signatures. This little guy comes out of the stage door, walking quite fast and right by my friend. I recognize that he is Arte Johnson. He's walking past my friend and she says, "Could I have your autograph please?" He waves her off and says, "I'm just with the stage crew." Stage Crew apparently hires a lot of 4'10" guys with grey hair. He didn't even slow down. By far the rudest performer I've ever encountered. That's not the kind of thing the cast should be doing during previews if they want people to come back. I don't know how good he thought he was that he can snub audience members like that. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Harolyn Blackwell was very very friendly, chatting with us for about 10 minutes.
That's all I have to say about that. (5/1/97)
At the end of act I the normally easy going Mr. VanDuz exclaimed, "What a lot of noisy, busy nothing!"
With that went out into the lobby, strove past the souvenir stands filled with "Candide" leisure wear, "Candide" playing cards and "Candide" stuffed toys, and we went to dinner.
This show was directed by Hal Prince, generally acknowledged to be the father of the "concept Musical." During the many minutes of the first act that my attention wandered away from the overserved chaos on the stage before me, I found myself wondering what the concept is in this incredibly expensive theatrical exercise was. Could it be that that money can't buy everything?
Speaking of which, for all it's Bernstein score, its veteren TV comics doing their schtick and its lavish marketing, this is not well-done enough an evening in the theater to be worth $75, and for the success of "Candide," I think that will be the bottom line. (5/1/97)
From markmal (firstname.lastname@example.org):
As far as productions of "Candide" go I suppose this is the best of all possible productions. I must admit to not being a huge fan of this show in general. . .I find it somewhat trite and confusing to the point of boredom. However I was rarely bored with this production.
Anyone familiar with Hal Prince's opera house version seen at NYCO and Chicago Lyric will know what to expect. Its basically the same structure but to Mr. Price's credit he has infused it with a frenetic pace and endlessly inventive staging. This production also has to its benefit a wonderful Big Top circus set design by Clarke Dunham that encompasses the vast stage of the Gershwin. The production values in general are first rate although I missed the full orchestra sound of the opera house but at least we have a wonderful full Broadway pit here playing beautifully.(One has to wonder if any other group of musicians could have played the difficult overture at the breakneck pace that Mr. Stern took!)
The performers are uniformly very good. Jim Dale is a constant delight and it's great to see him back on Broadway (I see a possible Tony award here). Andrea Martin is comic genius and her "I Am Easily Assimilated" is the show's highlight. She even manages to make the creaky addition of two false entrances work. She'll be giving Lilias White a run for her money for that Tony! Harolyn Blackwell is not a great actress but has a great set of pipes. Unfortunately she sticks out like a sore thumb. Miss Blackwell's voice is glorious in the opera house but through a body mike it sounds shrill and sometimes unpleasant. I suppose the body mike is a necessity but I wish the audience could experience her beautiful voice without it. Her "Glitter And Be Gay" stopped the show. Jason Danieley managed some beautiful soft singing but sounded uncannily like Brent Barret which would have been fine if Brent Barret weren't already in the show! I still would like to have heard a more legit voice here to balance out Miss Blackwell. My only annoyance was the gross over mugging of Arte Johnson. WAY too much.
All in all, given the recent plague of new musicals, this is a wonderful show. "Candide" fans will not be disappointed and new fans will be won over for sure. (4/29/97)
From Jrbig1 (Jrbig@aol.com):
I saw Candide a few days ago I had the pleasure of sitting 8th row at the 4th preview of Candide, and it was one of the few shows truly as great as the book. Jim Dale was brilliant as the part of Voltaire/Dr. Pangloss. Andrea Martin was hilarious as the old lady. Harolyn Blackwell has a beautiful voice and Jason Danieley makes a great Candide. The sets and costumes were gorgeous, such detail was put into them. I especially like when Voltaire (Jim Dale) swung over the audience. The songs were great, as Mr. Bernstein gave his usual excellent score. As for the play, it kind of lost the plot in Act Two. And they left out when Cunegonde and Candide meet at last that Cunegonde has become ugly and Candide has regrets. But over all it was one of the better shows I've seen in a while, and I recommend all to go see it. (4/28/97)
From Alan Kornheiser (ASKornheiser@prodigy.net):
Is a great book, great lyrics, great music, and superb singing enough to make a superb Broadway musical? Alas, from the evidence of Candide, the answer is no. By no means a bad show--the singing is marvelous, the music is rich and complex, and Jim Dale is an unmitigated delight as Voltaire/etc--it seems somehow coarse and overblown, as if a smaller show had been artificially inflated to fit into the Broadway supermusical category.
We sat second row center at the next-to-final preview, from which you will realize we had been eagerly awaiting for this show for a LONG time. All begins well, with a bright witty sideshow-colored set that doesn't try to do tricks. As soon as the overture begins, and then when the music begins, one feels one is in good hands. Alas, the feeling doesn't quite last. Too many members of a chorus come tumbling around pointlessly; too many costume changes appear garishly; and--most of all--too many tries for cheap laughs undermine the essentially NASTY heart of this show.
Candide is, after all, the story of a young man's loss of innocence and is full of rape, murder, depravity, and cruelty. Trying to cover this up with slapstick is like putting rouge on a corpse. By hiding, rather than accepting, the cynicism at the heart of this show, Harold Prince has undermined it. He cannot harm the music, and indeed the not-overmiked sound is just fine. But one goes out knowing that the ideal Candide is still waiting to happen. (4/28/97)
From David Morgan (email@example.com):
I saw Candide last thursday and can say that it is a delightful show.
The production is in a style that is almost comical or like a pantomime like some Gilbert & Sullivan shows. The set has the look of the inside of a circus tent and regularly you get the feel that you are seeing a circus more than a show.
The cast were wonderful. While no songs have the "leaving humming" aspect, it will be remembered that "this is the best of all possible worlds" which is the philosophy that Voltaire is ridiculing in the show.
There are some fun effects to do with flying and some of the acrobatic dancers were amazing. The Gershwin is huge and the set reflects this. The sound was great (from front row mezzanine) but the lights seemed to be having either problems with timing or position. There was an odd dimming at one stage and the followspot seemed to miss on a couple of occasions.
This play is not supposed to be a serious play and you go away feeling you've seen a show that is pleasant with no other premise than to entertain. (4/27/97)
From olisys, Morristown, NJ:
My husband and I saw the Sat. evening performance and were really disappointed with the production. We really expected much more. The music was terrific, as you would expect, and the costumes and sets were nice. The dance numbers were OK, but the biggest problem was with Harolyn Blackwell's performance. She has a lovely voice, but was not especially good at the acting elements of the role.
We had seats in row C of the orchestra at the extreme sides and had a lot of difficulty with the angles-especially at $65.00 per seat. They should have been labeled obstructed view. TicketMaster also never said that row C was not the third row of the orchestra, but considerably well back.
I actually found myself glancing at my watch wondering how much longer....I haven't been this bored at a performance since Nick and Nora. I was expecting something much closer in feel to Pippin or Cats in spirit and enthusiasm. I have loved the score for years, but hadn't seen a production mounted previously. The conducting was wonderful, and Danieley's Candide was terrific. Act 2 was much better than Act 1. The final number, Make Our Garden Grow, was wonderful. The overture was also fantastic! On balance, however, not a show I'd rush out to either recommend or to take my children to see. I was really expecting a great deal more originality from the production, but also, I guess I was just expecting more joy and excitement and magic. This musical came across as a ho-hum kind of evening. (4/27/97)
This new production is totally delightful. The cast is all first-rate. What a treat to Jim Dale on Broadway again. How I would love to see his Fagin. Andrea Martin and Arte Johnson are both very funny. I'm not sure if Harolyn Blackwell is such a great actress but her Glitter and Be Gay was superb. And it's nice to see Brent Barrett in a show that promises to run a while. He probably would have been a good Candide, too. Jason Danieley is a fine Candide and it says in his bio he's going to marry Marin Mazzie. Lucky guy.
The sets and costumes are magical and the orchestra is expertly conducted by Eric Stern. I just wish the Gershwin had better acoustics. I saw the production on Broadway years ago and I thought this one was much better because it wasn't straining so hard to be funny. A class act all the way.
By the way, I sat in the $20 seats near the stage--not a bad view, considering. Andrea Martin joined us during one of the scenes. I got to move into the orchestra during intermission. The theater was almost completely full- at least downstairs--which I wasn't expecting for a preview. (4/24/97)
From Bruce Janiga (firstname.lastname@example.org):
I saw it in previews today and thoroughly enjoyed it. I never tire of Hal Prince's ability to bring magic forth on stage. (4/23/97)