note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
As fabulous as the Huntington Theatre’s production of “Candide” is, it’s a shame that theatergoers‘ enjoyment is marred by where they are seated. For those seated under the balcony overhanging, (like me), the sound system is audible but lacks clarity. For all we know, some of the performers could be singing about goulash.
Any dialect that singers effect makes it worse. Although veteran actress Cheryl Stern’s voice is okay, it’s frustrating when her lyrics and dialogue are, at times, indiscernible because of her equally indiscernible accent.
Every other aspect of this musical satire that tackles everything from politics to religion, government to philosophy, is fabulous. The 14-piece orchestra, led by pianist-conductor Doug Peck, is spectacular throughout the almost three-hour, two-act production. Although the overture is long, it’s pleasing, highlighting Leonard Bernstein’s outstanding score. And Tony Award-winning Mary Zimmerman has gathered a superb cast, whose acting and singing squeeze every ounce of artistic joy out of every scene.
Fresh-faced Geoff Packard as naive optimist Candide is sweetly innocent and sincere, his tenor soaring in duets with Lauren Molina, portraying Candide’s forbidden aristocratic, egotistical love, Cunegonde. Molina is a small package of dynamite, whose stunning soprano voice and comic timing are fantastic.
Candide, the baron’s illegitimate nephew, faces torment, torture, illegal conscription, evil, lecherous leaders and more, but he clings to his teacher Pangloss’ philosophy, that everything that happens in life is all for the best, regardless of how miserable it is - even when they’re about to be tortured and executed. During Candide’s travails in the cruel world, outsiders exploit his unwavering absurd optimism - that all men are inherently good. Most people think he’s a simpleton.
Although his roles are small, veteran Boston actor Timothy John Smith steals the spotlight. He received thunderous applause for his solo-duet with Molina in, “My Love,” during the second act. Eric Lochetefeld is sublime as Cunegonde’s fussy, pseudo-aristocratic, narcissistic brother, Maximilian and in several other roles, and Larry Yando as incredibly optimistic savant, Pangloss, is consistently funny.
Not to be overlooked is lovely Boston rising star, McCaela Donovan, whose presence on stage is far too infrequent as household servant Paquette and in other bit parts. The rest of the cast is colorfully supportive.
The set and costumes are also creative and resplendent. Costume designer Mara Blumenfeld has restored the grandeur and grittiness of the 18th century Voltaire era, and Daniel Ostling’s sets that divide and conquer the stage with multiple scene changes, are eye-popping. Ostling has created a travelogue that traces Candide’s travails from a baron’s castle in Westphalia, to military barracks in Bulgaria; wave-tossed seascapes heading to Holland, Lisbon and Venice; a torture chamber and dungeon; a governor’s mansion in Paraguay; lush South American jungles. He has also envisioned a glittering, golden perfect world named El Dorado, where gems and riches mean nothing, exotic red sheep in gem-encrusted collars are commonplace, and happiness is supreme.
Although “Candide” has undergone several transformations since it initially appeared on stage in the 1950s, this rich musical version, which Zimmerman directed in Chicago a year ago, is dazzling.
BOX INFO: Two-act musical satire, based on Voltaire’s novella, with music and lyrics by Leonard Bernstein, Richard Wilbur, and additional lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, John LaTouche, Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker, appearing through Oct. 16 at the Huntington Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave., Boston. Showtimes are Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m.; select Sundays, 7 p.m.; matinees, select Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays, at 2 p.m. Times vary. Tickets start at $25; senior, military discount, $5 off. subscriber. BU community discounts, $10; 35-below, $25; student rush two hours before the show, if available, $15. For more information, visit huntingtontheatre.org or call 617-266-0800.