"The best of all castles in the best of all countries in the best of all possible worlds." Thus begins Candide, in the words of Dr. Pangloss (Greg Nacozy), an optimist who subscribes to the theories of Gottfried Leibniz, the famous 17th century mathematician and philosopher. Voltaire took issue with that rose-colored view of creation in his satirical novel Candide: or, The Optimist.
In Delgado's recent production of the musical based on the book, Leonard Bernstein's score was reduced to a keyboard version played onstage by musical director Karl Harrod. Tom Dawson's set was simple, almost childlike, emphasizing the innocence of Pangloss' students, Cunegonde (Alexa Fitzpatrick) and her cousin Candide (Bill Mader Jr.). The two fall in love and struggle though an avalanche of disasters, including earthquakes, war and slavery while trying to find peace. From the start, the pair is star-crossed, since Cunegonde is the rich, beautiful virgin daughter of a baron and cousin Candide is an illegimate child.
In the serpentine narrative, anything that can go wrong does go wrong — and at the worst possible moment. After infuriating the baron, Candide wanders the world as a penniless exile. He suffers shipwrecks, conscription into the Bulgarian army and other trials. Conegonde gets kidnapped by Barbary pirates, enslaved by a Turkish pasha and then sold.
In a sense, the story is an Enlightenment version of the Book of Job. It centers on the underlying paradox of monotheism: "If God is good, he is not great, and if God is great, he is not good."
Candide, which debuted on Broadway in 1956, is not really a musical comedy. Bernstein called it an operetta, which may be stretching the point. It reminded me more of Brecht (without the Kurt Weil brashness) — though there is a bit of Gilbert and Sullivan nuttiness in the disregard for verisimilitude, like when a crowd gathered around an inquisition pyre sings: "What a day, what a day, for an auto-de-fé."
Under Timothy K. Baker's direction, the young cast sang well and created a more-or-less believable portrait of this wildly caricatured world. Megan Whittle's Paquette, a housemaid none too chary of her morals, deserves a nod. And a hearty thank-you to Delgado for bringing us the rare opportunity to see Candide. — Dalt Wonk