Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.


Also see Susan's review of A Wrinkle in Time

Hollis Resnik and Lauren Molina
Leonard Bernstein's musical version of Candide has always been a somewhat ungainly work: no two major productions since its premiere in 1956 have used exactly the same script and the same pieces of Bernstein's glorious score. The Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington has had the good fortune of bringing director Mary Zimmerman's lively and richly lyrical adaptation, which originated at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, to be the first musical production in Sidney Harman Hall.

Voltaire's original satiric novel, published in 1759, eviscerates the philosophy of Optimism, which held that everything that happens has a positive purpose—even naturally occurring catastrophes such as the earthquake that destroyed Lisbon, Portugal, four years before Voltaire published his book. The naïve title character (Geoff Packard) stumbles through one disaster after another in many parts of the world before he can look beyond the platitudes of his teacher, Dr. Pangloss (Larry Yando), and move forward.

Zimmerman has ingeniously staged this sprawling epic to fit comfortably on the (admittedly large) stage of Sidney Harman Hall. Miniature ships on poles traverse horizontal "waves" of painted scenery; pieces of set dressing appear through the paneled walls of Daniel Ostling's scenic design; and a hand-held pinwheel represents a windmill to set the stage for a scene in the Netherlands.

The large cast and capable orchestra, conducted by Doug Peck, are most in their element when they get to perform Bernstein's music. The production runs three hours; the dialogue scenes sometimes get a little slow, packed as they are with both exposition and philosophical debate, but they never become too ponderous. (Zimmerman also never works too hard to emphasize the contemporary parallels with the narrative, although she does include a reference to the "great intelligent design" that powers the world.)

Packard has a golden tenor voice and a wide-open face that conveys the shocks Candide undergoes as he bounces from war to religious persecution and from corrupt aristocratic courts to the truly benevolent mythical land of El Dorado. Lauren Molina, as his beloved Cunegonde, gives a delightfully giddy performance of the famous aria "Glitter and Be Gay" and brings gravity to the finale, "Make Our Garden Grow." Hollis Resnik is a charmer as the tricky Old Lady who befriends Cunegonde and has her own hair-raising back story. Other standouts are Erik Lochtefeld as Cunegonde's impossibly vain brother, Tom Aulino as the gloomy scholar Martin, and Rebecca Finnegan in several roles.

Shakespeare Theatre Company
November 26th —January 9th, 2011
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
Choreographer: Daniel Pelzig
Music Director: Doug Peck
A co-production with Goodman Theatre
Pangloss and others: Larry Yando
Candide: Geoff Packard
Cunegonde: Lauren Molina
Maximilian and others: Erik Lochtefeld
Paquette and others: Margo Seibert
Baroness, Vanderdendur, and others: Rebecca Finnegan
Servant and others: Govind Kumar
Baron, Martin, and others: Tom Aulino
Bird and others: Emma Rosenthal
Soldier, Cacambo, and others: Jesse J. Perez
Soldier, Governor, and others: Jonathan Weir
Soldier, Señor, and others: Joey Stone
Anabaptist, Captain, and others: Rob Lindley
Innkeeper, Schoolteacher, and others: Thomas Adrian Simpson
Orator, Grand Inquisitor, and others: Chris Sizemore
Orator's Wife and others: Tracy Lynn Olivera
Sailor and others: Spencer Curnutt
Queen of El Dorado and others: Tempe Thomas
Old Lady: Hollis Resnik
Harman Center for the Arts, Sidney Harman Hall
610 F St. NW
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or

Photo: Liz Lauren