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Candide ~ The Kennedy Center

Jordan Wright
May 8, 2018 

Imagine, if you will that composer Leonard Bernstein’s 18th C set piece opera Candide was first staged the year following the Broadway premiere West Side Story.  1956.  It seems incredible that these two wildly divergent stories were composed, staged and produced by one man in less than twelve months.  Okay, he was a genius, which is why the Kennedy Center is lauding his songbook for its exciting celebration on the 100th anniversary of his birth.

Wynn Harmon, Emily Pogorelc, Alek Shrader, and Denyce Graves in Candide. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Under the virtuoso direction of Francesca Zambello, this imaginative, new production hails from New York’s The Glimmerglass Festival, where she is Artistic Director.  And it is not hyperbole to say it is a jaw-dropping extravaganza of dance, opera, comedy and, yes, drama too.  Sword fights!  Its list of lyricists – Richard Wilbur, Stephen Sondheim, Lillian Hellman, John La Touche, Dorothy Parker and Bernstein too – puts one in mind of late, martini-soaked nights plotting the script at the Algonquin’s famed Round Table.  One can only imagine the heady repartee.

Based on the dystopian novel by Voltaire in which Candide (Alek Shrader) discovers that the world, and his royal pals, are not the egalitarian society he had been taught.  And that Professor Pangloss’s (Wynn Harmon who doubles as Voltaire, the musical’s raconteur) rosy outlook on the world has its challenges – chief among them Candide’s love for the dazzling, gold-digging ingenue, Cunegonde (Emily Pogoreic).  That, and survival.

Amid the velvet breeches and Gainsborough frock coats of the aristocracy, Candide encounters war, famine and human suffering but manages to keep a cheerful and brave demeanor.  Along the way he meets the characters who will shape his life – The Old Lady (DC’s own superstar Denyce Graves), the haughty Maximillian (Edward Nelson), Candide’s comrade in arms Cacambo (Frederick Ballentine), the naughty servant girl Paquette (Eliza Bonet) and James (Matthew Scollin doubling as Martin the pessimistic street sweeper).  Balancing out his misadventures are the ruthless Grand Inquisitor (Alexander McKissick) and the addle-headed Baroness (Keriann Otaño) who would give Marie Antoinette a run for her money with a powdered wig so high she needs her lackey to hold it up with what appears to be a fishing pole.  Credit David C. Zimmerman for hair and makeup.

Emily Pogorelc, Denyce Graves, and Alek Shrader in Candide. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Throughout Candide’s peregrinations through the Old and New Worlds – in Holland, Paris, Spain, Uruguay, Paraguay and Surinam – he encounters war and misery, but somehow fortune prevails, and, unlike the thousands killed, he is spared hanging, burning at the stake, bayoneting and drowning.  I may have left a disaster out.  When our hero finally arrives at the Doge’s masquerade ball in Venice after some consorting with edenic Incans, he discovers his long lost Cunegonde bereft of the money and jewels she sold her soul to acquire.  They work it out.

This is a lavishly artistic, sublimely witty, while yet philosophical, musical that never slows down. You will adore it!  And, while I’m raving, I must single out the remarkable beauty, charm, comedic skills and flawless soprano voice of Emily Pogoreic.  Her aria “Glitter and Be Gay” is breathtaking.  And did I mention her dancing?  Absolutely marvelous.  Everyone is.  Twelve additional cast members add to the beautiful chorus and the Opera House’s acoustics sound particularly magnificent thanks to G Thomas Clark and crew for GTC Sound Design LLC.

Please, please go! Even if you never thought you’d see an opera. It’s Bernstein, for Pete’s sake.

With surtitles. Even though it’s in English, they’re useful.  You don’t want to miss a line.

Conducting by Nicole Paiement, book adaptation from Voltaire by Hugh Wheeler in a new version by John Caird, choreography by Eric Sean Fogel and Felicity Stiverson, lighting by Mark McCullough.  Soloists are Andrea Beasom, Tom Berklund, Jaely Chamberlain, Andrew Harper, Katherine Henly, Michael Hewitt, Nicholas Houhoulis, Jarrod Lee, Danny Lindgren, Alison Mixon, Ameerah Sabreen, Louisa Morrison Waycott.

Performances on May 12th, 14th, 18th, 20th, 22nd, 24th and 26th at The Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit

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