Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Foothill Music Theatre presents a wild version of Bernstein's Candide

Also see Richard's reviews of Times Like These and Mamma Mia!

Michael Amaral, Stewart Lyle and Keite Davis
The Peninsula's Foothill Music Theatre has opened its 2004 season with a fast paced version of Leonard Bernstein's Candide. Jay Manley, who has presented some excellent musicals at Foothill College, has now tackled one of the most difficult musicals to stage. For over 40 years, producers have struggled to give coherent voice and shape to this musical. The misadventures of Candide trying to find "the best of all possible worlds" has caused the downfall of many producers.

I have seen more than ten versions of the musical based on Voltaire's Candide, and most of the time I focus on the score rather than on the story. My first experience with Bernstein's musical was in January 1957 when I saw Barbara Cook, Robert Rounseville, Max Adrian and Irra Petina at the Martin Beck. I was enchanted with the musical but found the book very weak. The musical ran only 73 performances. Following that, I saw the 1974 production with Mark Baker and Maureen Brennan; this weird Brooklyn version of the musical was followed by the 1997 overblown version at the Gershwin with Jason Danieley wonderfully playing Candide. While in London in 1999, I saw the perfect Candide at the Royal National with Daniel Evans as the perfect Candide. Simon Russell Beale as Dr. Pangloss and Alex Kelly were just right for their roles. The late Denis Quilley was also wonderful in various roles. The 2002 concert with Jason Danieley, Marin Mazzie, Rita Moreno and George Hearn and the large San Francisco Symphony was marvelous. I have also seen some inferior touring productions and regional productions of the classic.

Jay Manley has put more than 24 singers and dancers on a small bandbox stage and presents the speeded up musical operetta in one hour and 45 minutes with no intermission. It is the busiest Candide I have ever seen. Actors are running up and down the aisles to get to their assigned places. These actors are behind you, on the sides and even occasionally in front of you in this tiny theater. Scene changes happen so fast, you are not quite sure where you are in the story. There have been cuts in this version. Much of the Jesuit scenes have been cut and suddenly the group is in Constantinople. Just a tad too fast, I am thinking.

Manley has used the canned opening for the introduction with all of the artists running down to the small stage. This is an exciting bit and it looks like we are going to have a first class production of Bernstein's "operetta." However, everything just goes by too fast and the actors have not yet conquered the intimacies of the Bernstein score.

Stewart Lyle uses a falsetto voice as Dr. Voltaire and does a creditable acting role as Dr. Pangloss and the Governor. Michael Amaral seems a little too old and "street smart" for Candide. He has an excellent voice, especially in "It Must Be So" and "Make Our Garden Grow." Cunegonde is played by Keite Davis and she has a pleasing voice in "Glitter and Be Gay." Linda Piccone is very good as the old lady and she does a vaudeville turn with "I Am Easily Assimilated." However, she tends to race through her solo speaking part on how she lost one of her buttocks. Nicholas Nakashima as Maximilian has a bell clear voice but tends to be a little too puffed as the narcissistic brother.

Candide's problem once again is the book. This almost seems like a "Reader's Digest" version of past productions that I have seen. The choral work is first rate on "Auto Da Fé," and the final song, "Make Our Garden Grow," is done very well. I give Jay Manley credit for presenting this difficult show and getting all of those people on the small stage.

Candide is being presented in the small theater on the Foothill College Campus at 12345 El Monte Rd, Los Altos Hills. It runs through March 14 and tickets can be obtained by charge-by-phone hotline at 650-949-7414 or call the box office at 650-949-7360 (open Wed - Sun. noon - 3 pm) or visit

Photo: David Allen

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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