Los Angeles Review by Willard Manus

Long Beach Opera has mounted an imaginative and circus-like production of Leonard Bernstein’s CANDIDE at the Center Theater in Long Beach. The one-act operetta, adapted from Voltaire’s 1759 novel by Bernstein (and a slew of playwrights), and directed by David Schweizer, features puppeteers from the Rogue Artists Ensemble who fill the stage with their rough and tumble antics while the lead singers exuberantly belt out such now-famous arias as “The Best of All Possible Worlds” and “Glitter and Be Gay.”

CANDIDE premiered on Broadway in 1956 with an original book by Lillian Hellman and lyrics by Richard Wilbur. Later Hugh Wheeler re-wrote the book, with Stephen Sondheim and John LaTouche adding new lyrics. The LBO production employs John Caird’s version of CANDIDE, designed recently for The Royal National Theatre.

Todd Strange, Jamie Chamberlin

All the tinkering was necessary because of the picaresque nature of Voltaire’s novel in which the hero, Doctor Pangloss (Robin Buck), wanders through an evil, war-torn, hostile landscape preaching a philosophy of optimism and good cheer (“it’s the best of all possible worlds,” he keeps telling his girlfriend Cunegonde (Jamie Chamberlin). Voltaire not only pokes fun at the Doctor’s New Age philosophy but at corrupt politicians, priests and inquisitors.

Meanwhile, Bernstein’s famed score mixes everything from Viennese waltzes to soaring arias to Latin tangos. “It’s my personal love letter to European music,” he confessed when CANDIDE was first performed.

Schweizer’s conceit is that we are watching an open rehearsal of the opera, with singers lobbying for juicier parts and arias, and the puppeteers (sometimes in masks, other times on stilts) clamoring to create the world of the story. It gives things an improvisational quality which sometimes blunts the opera’s satirical edge, but in the end the joyous music and singing carry the day.

LBO’s upcoming productions include FALLUJAH, “an inspiring story of hope and healing after war,” by Robin Stokes & Heather Raffo (March 12-20); LA VOIX HUMAINE by Francis Poulenc (April 8-17); and THE NEWS BY Jacob TV (June 19-26).

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