As a fan of the arts and theater, I often consider myself lucky to live so close to a city like Chicago where in a little more or less than an hour, depending on the day, you can find yourself immersed and surrounded by the arts in a variety of forms.
Tonight was one of those lucky nights for me as I had the opportunity to see a performance of Candide at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre. Although I am a fan of musical theater, and the works of Stephen Sondheim in particular (thanks to a semester of study of study devoted to his work in college at Illinois State University), I had never seen the show before tonight and I had forgotten about Sondheim’s involvement in it. But I shouldn’t haven been surprised given the fact that the music wass written by Sondheim’s long time collaborator Leonard Bernstein (you may have heard of a little musical called West Side Story on which these two musical geniuses also worked.)
But Bernstein isn’t the shows only connection to Sondheim, in addition to working on some of the additional lyrics to the show, Candide was also adapted from Voltaire by Hugh Wheeler, with whom Sondheim also collaborated. This particular production was directed and adapted by Mary Zimmerman.
Candide first premiered on Broadway in 1956. According to Goodman Theatre’s artistic director Robert Falls, “Candide is essentially the story of a journey: a young man, cast out by the family who adopted him as a child, travels the world to experience a variety of calamities, each of which tests the contention of his mentor… that all things happen for the best in “this best of all possible worlds.”
In addition to music and lyrics by Bernstein and Sondheim, Candide also uses “satiric humor and absurdly comic sequences” that make it funny and heartfelt at the same time.
But the success of this production is also thanks in large part to the actors including Geoff Packard in the title role. This was Packard’s Goodman debut and he was amazing. Watching Packard’s performance, I found similarities between the character of Candide and that of Antony in Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
And speaking of Sweeney Todd, another standout performance was that of Lauren Molina who was cast as Johanna in 2007 production at Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theate, which I had seen.
Other particularly entertaining performances included Erik Lochterfeld as Maximillian and Hollis Resnik as the Old Lady, and Tom Aulino as Candide’s mentor Dr. Pangloss.
Although I wouldn’t call Candide a happy story, it was far more upliftng than the production of The True Story of the Johnstown Flood that I saw previously at the Goodman.