Candide (1999)


Show Credits: Music by Leonard Bernstein
Additional Lyrics by Leonard Bernstein
New Version by John Caird
Additional Lyrics by John Latouche
Book Adapted from Voltaire by Hugh Wheeler
Additional Lyrics by Dorothy Parker and Lillian Hellman and Stephen Sondheim
Lyrics by Richard Wilbur

Candide -- the bastard cousin of Baron Thunder-Ten-Tonck -- is expelled from home, dragged into the Bulgarian army, brought before the Spanish Inquisition, swindled out of a fortune, shipwrecked on a desert isle, and separated time and again from his true love Cunegonde. She, too, bears a barrage of misfortunes including, but no limited to, sale into prostitution, forced marriage to an exorbitantly wealthy man, and slavery. Through it all, however, they try remember the lessons of their dear master Dr. Pangloss: "Everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds."

A score by legendary Leonard Bernstein is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Candide and its theatrical offerings. With a book from Hugh Wheeler and lyrical contributions from the incomparable Stephen Sondheim, it's a masterpiece for the ages.

Elements of the original 1953 version, along with songs that had been dropped, rewritten or re-conceived, have been added or altered in this version in an effort to create a slightly re-imagined version of the classic Candide. This version requires a large ensemble with a strong female lead. It is the perfect opportunity to showcase your trained singers of varying ages.

Insight from the experts Casting Tip: This version of Candide can be played by as few as 20 performers – there being 8 leading roles, 2 important but contained minor leading roles, and a further 30-odd roles to be played by a minimum ensemble of 6 men and 6 women. If greater forces are used

Staging Tip: Notes from John Caird
The New Version of Candide In 1998 Trevor Nunn asked me to prepare a production of Candide for the Royal National Theatre in London. I had always admired the Voltaire novel and was very familiar with the Bernstein score but I had never seen the show itself so I set about reading all the available versions of it, from the original Lillian Hellman script of 1956 onwards. All of the texts I looked at had their strengths and all of them did honour in their different ways to the unalterably wonderful music, but it seemed to me that none of them sufficiently reflected or trusted Voltaire’s original story, which was, after all, Bernstein’s first inspiration. I therefore resolved to write a new version myself, based on the idea of the Hugh Wheeler book but drawing heavily from the novel as primary source material.

My first step was to discuss my plans with Harry Kraut, representing the Bernstein Estate and with Biff Liff of William Morris speaking for all the other contributing authors, living or dead. Having received the approval and support of their clients for the project I was then able to talk directly to Richard Wilbur, the original lyricist, and to Stephen Sondheim, the leading additional lyricist about adapting some of their existing work to suit the new story-line. They both very graciously agreed to do so. My plan in restructuring the book had three intentions: to include more of Voltaire’s story with all its moral complexity and mordant wit, to develop the major characters more fully, and to establish a new order for the songs that would knit them more tightly into the story.

You will see from comparing the text with the original novel how I achieved the first of these goals. I have expanded the use of Voltaire as a narrator throughout but have also added spoken scenes where I thought it essential for the characters to be brought directly into play or where the omission of any of Voltaire’s original material was doing damage to the overall meaning of the story.

The characters themselves all needed further development, some more than others. Candide himself required a fuller relationship with Cacambo, his faithful servant, and a much more significant relationship with Martin, the friend who becomes the essential philosophical counterweight to Pangloss. Previous versions had the same actor playing Pangloss and Martin, making it impossible for the two characters to meet and spar against each other, most importantly in Venice at the end of the story when Candide tries to choose between their philosophical beliefs and finds them both wanting. Maximilian’s personality needed greater delineation, more as an insufferable snob obsessed with the rights of his class and less occupying his sister Cunegonde’s characteristics of vanity and self-obsession.

The changes I have made in song order and lyrical content are also significant. There is a new lyric for the opening ‘Voltaire Chorale’ setting up Voltaire’s relationship with his characters and providing a weighty balance with its reprise ‘Universal Good’. Stephen Sondheim has provided Maximilian with a clever and apt new lyric for ‘Life is Absolute Perfection’. ‘Candide’s Lament’ now happens when he hears the report of Cunegonde’s death from Pangloss, rather than over her actual dead body, thus making her later reappearance more plausible. The ‘Paris Waltz’ starts out in Paris where it obviously belongs but the interwoven scene takes us rapidly on to Portugal for ‘Glitter and Be Gay’, making greater sense of Cunegonde’s story. I have edited ‘Auto-da-fe’ so that it refers exclusively to the workings of the Inquisition and its disastrous effect on Candide and Pangloss, thus making the whole episode more dramatically germane. In the process I have cut out Pangloss’s patter song about the pox as it duplicates the earlier ‘Dear Boy’ which is a musically far more interesting song and also reveals the underlying sadness and complexity of Pangloss’s character. Having introduced the character of Cacambo in the ‘Easily Assimilated’ scene, it seemed prudent to have him take over the Captain’s lines in the Quartet Finale to Act One. Act Two now opens with the song ‘We Are Women’ – a great kick-start to the second half, and the perfect place for Cunegonde and the Old Woman to motivate the song with a dramatic purpose. The ‘Alleluia’ sequence in the Paraguayan jungle has been suitably trimmed to accommodate the action and I have reverted to the excellent and original ‘Ballad of Eldorado’, thus avoiding the dreaded singing sheep, which I felt undermined the importance of Candide’s stay in Eldorado. As Candide and Cacambo arrive in Surinam, I did try returning the story to Montevideo and catching up with Cunegonde and the Old Woman driving the Governor to distraction in the fascinating atonal trio ‘Quiet’ – but the overall length of the show and the need to move on as swiftly as possible to Venice made me decide – rather reluctantly - to cut the number in its entirety. In purely dramatic terms, the following song ‘Bon Voyage’ could also very easily be cut – but it’s a wonderful tour-de-force for Vanderdendur and gives a much appreciated musical lift so I have done my best to make narrative sense of its inclusion. I have used the brief song ‘Money, Money, Money’ as an introduction to the Venice scenes, following it with the ‘Venice Gavotte’ and the unmasking of Cunegonde and the Old Woman, which itself occasions Candide’s heartbreaking ‘Nothing More Than This’. ‘What’s the Use’ has been brilliantly rewritten by Richard Wilbur to involve all of the major characters with the exception of Candide. The song now has the effect of a rousing and necessary comedic climax to the show before the story continues to its serious and moving conclusion. Finally I have put ‘The Kings’ Barcarolle’ in a gondola where it belongs and made the utterances of the six kings integral to Candide’s final decision about his life and the lives of all his friends.

If the show is long, it is only as long as it needs to be, and if performed with the proper degree of commitment and joyful invention, it will never seem long. There are cuts to be made, however, if a particular director or producer feels the need to economise. The most obvious surgery would be the excision of the scene with the monkeys and the Lobeiro Indians in Paraguay. It’s a strange and fascinating episode and the device of having Cacambo translating his conversation with the Lobeiros in the style of an anthropological documentary is very funny in the right actor’s hands, but I can’t deny that the overall power of the show would not be damaged by its removal. Other smaller cuts could no doubt be made to fit the style or ambition of a particular production without changing the essential dramatic line.

What I hope I have achieved with this version is the establishment of a proper balance between the towering philosophical genius of Voltaire and the joyful and passionately humanising energy of Bernstein so that the best inspirations of both great artists can be freshly and distinctively revealed. Voltaire and his hero Candide grow up to feel that Pangloss’s best of all possible worlds is a hopeless and misguided delusion, so perhaps by the same token one should never seek to find the best of all possible musicals – but I came to feel after working on this exhilarating, mischievous and profoundly moving piece that I had come as close as I was ever likely to get.

Staging Tip: ‘Candide’ is a swiftly moving human story told by its author, Voltaire. He introduces his characters, controls the narrative and conjures up the entire show, seeming to make it up as he goes along. He must therefore have a direct and constant contact with all the other performers and a clear relationship with any other theatrical methods employed for the telling of the story. From the very beginning of the show, when he seems to imagine the music of the Overture all the way through to the final chords of ‘Make Our Garden Grow’ Voltaire must be in charge. The style of production must therefore be simple and rough, uncluttered by complex stage machinery or expensive technical devices.

A director and designer must however create some sort of environment – one that will provide a visual correlative to the verbal and musical worlds already so finely wrought by Voltaire and Bernstein – but whatever their solution, they mustn’t get bogged down in slavish naturalism. The story moves far too fast for that and Voltaire’s tone is too whimsical and ironic to allow for clumsy and old-fashioned theatrical scenery .

In the original production of this version at the National Theatre, my designer John Napier provided me with an utterly bare stage surface, beautifully reminiscent of old atlases and astrolabes and perfect for dancing, together with a most ingenious but simple device: a set of seven interlocking boxes of gradually decreasing sizes – on the same principle as a Russian matryoshka doll – which could be used for everything necessary for the telling of the story. The boxes became a bed, a ship, a ruined landscape, a gallows, a pair of horses or a gondola amongst dozens of other things – and out of the boxes the actors could also produce all the other props and costumes and weapons and accessories that their characters might require. Trap doors in various parts of the stage also provided secret access underneath the boxes for the appearance or disappearance of props, costumes, bits of scenery, or even people. I have described these devices in the stage directions of the present text and you are free to use them if they appeal to you – but you could just as well invent some similar methods of your own that might answer the particular requirements of your production better. You must choose, but be inventive with your choices. Direct and design your show with the same wit and dexterity and variety that Voltaire used in the telling of it and Bernstein in the scoring of it.



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