CANDIDE (Philadelphia Orchestra): A dilettante at large review

candide-philadelphia-orchestraLeonard Bernstein, the genius of classical music, the genius of musical theater, the composer who found a way to merge the spiritual and the political and the sexy.  In Candide hemerges  a work of 18th century French philosophy with a magnificent orchestra,  operatic voices, and an enormous chorus. And then add on two Hollywood stars as narrators, Bradley Cooper and Carey Mulligan (neither added much beyond glamour). Meanwhile,our local genius of the merger, Maestro Yannick Nezet-Seguin, spreads his powerful arms and spreads palpable joy over it all. What fun. What music. What an evening.

OK: granted that in the “best of all possible worlds” (Voltaire’s famous line) stage director Kevin Newbury might have provided a bit more coherence. The plot is goofy enough as Voltaire wrote it, but with so many characters and so many little dramas playing out on stage while someone is singing, our focus is pulled in too many directions.  

The plot is an allegory of innocence journeying through a wicked world. Our hero, Candide (Alek Shrader) is in love with the unattainable Cunegonde (Erin Morley whose “Glitter and Be Gay” is a triumph of adorableness). Their teacher, Dr Pangloss (Kevin Vortmann, who gets the hotshot academic look and manner perfectly) preaches optimism, that  this is“the best of all possible worlds.” The world, however, proves him wrong repeatedly, what with greed and rape and war and Inquisitions and pirates.

The two lovers are constantly separated, winding up on different sides of the world, accompanied by Old Woman (Denyce Graves playing it big and bold and funny) and Paquette (Amanda Lynn Bottoms).

It’s all been updated to 1992 in Westphalian High School, complete with locker rooms, cheerleaders, goth girls and Sex Ed classes. The lesson  learned is that in this wicked world “we must cultivate our garden,” and the show ends with a rollicking finale that brings the smiling audience to its feet.

[Philadelphia Orchestra at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts] June 20-22, 2019; philorch.org

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About the author

Toby Zinman

Toby Zinman is Professor of English at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was a Fulbright professor at Tel Aviv University and a visiting professor in China. She publishes widely and lectures internationally on American drama. Her fifth book, Replay: Classic Modern Drama Reimagined, was recently published by Methuen, and she has just finished an essay, "Visions of Tragedy in Contemporary American Drama," due out in 2017. Zinman is also the chief theater critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. She was named by American Theatre magazine as, “one of the 12 most influential critics in America.” Her travel writing has taken her all over the world, from dogsledding in the Yukon to hiking across England.