Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

A Grand Production of Leonard Bernstein's Candide
Lamplighters Music Theatre

Also see Richard's reviews of Harbor and Tree and Jeanie's reviews of Clybourne Park

Samuel Faustine
Lamplighters Music Theatre is presenting an impressive production of Candide. This company, primarily known for their enthusiasm and love for the works of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, present this ultimate Candide. It is not the cut down American version that I saw on Broadway with Barbara Cook and Robert Rounseville but the three-hour Royal National Theatre version by John Caird that I saw in 1999 with Simon Russell Beale. This version gives more detail of the contrasting philosophies of pessimism and optimism. You could call it a philosopher's Candide with additional songs that are more in touch with Voltaire's viewpoints.

John Caird's version (original adaptation by Hugh Wheeler) is darker than the American version and more articulate than the original New York production. This production includes the "Jesuit war against Spain" in Paraguay scene and extended scenes in Surinam and Venice.

Baker Peeples serves as the conductor of the 18-piece orchestra and the narrator Voltaire. He moves effortlessly from one role to another. He even sings some solo passages in the "Ballad of Eldorado". The orchestra gets the luscious textures of Leonard Bernstein's music. The choral work is superb and "Make Our Garden Grow" is one of the highlights of the evening.

Samuel Faustine is wonderful as Candide. He plays the role sometimes in a comic vein and then morphs beautifully into a more serious mood. He has a powerful voice and it comes booming across the theater. He shines in "Life Is Happiness Indeed," "Candide's Lament," and "It Must Be Me." He is very droll singing "You Were Dead, You Know" with Cunegonde.

Jennifer Ashworth gives a terrific performance as Cunegonde. She is an absolute delight and changes from a lovely "innocent girl" to almost an old, worn out woman in the last scenes. Her rendition of "Glitter and Be Gay," the famous jewel song, is pitch perfect.

Rick Williams is splendid as Pangloss and he plays it campy. He injects his own gallows humor in several scenes and is particularly good in his rendition of "Dear Boy" in the Holland scene. Deborah Rosengaus is excellent as the Old Woman. She is charismatic in "I Am Easily Assimilated," certainly another highlight of the production.

There are major revisions in the second act. It introduces Cacambo, who is the friend and confidant of Candide. Phil Wong gives a wonderful animated performance in the role. The Paraguay scene has been extended to include the powerful "Alleluia" by the chorus, and this version adds the King and Queen of Eldorado. Ben Brady plays many parts, including Martin, and he comes into his own on "Words, Words, Words," a pessimistic ode to the optimism of Pangloss. "This is the worst of all possible worlds" he sings.

This version never gets to Constantinople, but the group does end up in Venice where we hear the added "Money, Money, Money" by the women of Venice, the charming "Venice Gavotte" and Candide's soulful ballet "Nothing More Than This." This is also the scene involving a dream sequence of six dethroned kings singing "The Kings' Barcarolle" drifting on the canals of Venice.

There are some excellent supporting singer/actors in the cast. Samuel Rabinowitz prims and prims around the stage as the arrogant Maximilian who has been killed "several times," and then ends up as the head abbot of the Jesuit order. He is excellent in these roles.

Candide plays next at the Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Street, Walnut Creek, February 13-15 (650-903-6000), and then the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts, Castro Street, Mountain View (925-943-7469) on February 21-22. For more information, call 415-978-2787 or visit It moves to

Coming up next is the little performed Gilbert and Sullivan's The Grand Duke playing on April 25-26 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts on April 30 and Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek on May 2nd.

Photo: Lucas Buxman

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

- Richard Connema