Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Why Candide?

Posted by Artistic Director Robert Falls

A number of years ago, Mary Zimmerman came to me with an idea just beginning to take shape in her mind: a new production of the classic Leonard Bernstein musical Candide. She had been introduced to the piece by several of her friends and had already spent some time studying the various versions of the show that had been produced since its Broadway premiere in 1956. She responded immediately to Bernstein’s score, widely considered to be his best creation for the musical stage; but she felt that the adaptations of Voltaire’s novel, each admirable in its way, somehow missed the singularly pointed satiric humor of the original. She proposed the creation of a new book for the piece, one which included many of the strengths of the previous adaptations while remaining truer to the unique spirit of Voltaire’s text. After a series of meetings with the various representatives of these artists, Mary received permission to create her own version of Candide.

By that time, Mary was hard at work on other projects, chief among them a series of three highly successful productions for the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Her work in this sphere only added to her enthusiasm for a reworked Candide and last fall, prior to her rehearsals for the third of her Met commitments, she began actively working with musical director Doug Peck (a longtime aficionado of the show) on this long-awaited project. As I write this, Mary is downstairs in the rehearsal room fashioning this new production with the singular insight and imagination that has infused such disparate pieces as The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, The Odyssey and Pericles. Like those works, 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, the venerable Dr. Pangloss, that all things happen for the best in this “best of all possible worlds.” Although the wanderings of Candide, Cunegonde and the others that populate Voltaire’s story are described with sly humor, the basic questions that lie beneath these absurdly comic sequences are very serious ones indeed: How can we deal with the disasters that befall us without surrendering to crippling despair, or worse, complete paralysis? Can we maintain a sense of optimism in a world that often seems randomly cruel? How is survival itself possible in an environment that often gleefully refutes Pangloss’s hopeful axiom?

Such heady themes are rarely explored in Broadway musicals—but the deft humor of Voltaire’s original, the enduring relevance of his themes, and Bernstein’s brilliantly multifaceted score have made Candide a phenomenon of the American theater, with such diverse writers as Lillian Hellman and Stephen Sondheim lending their distinctive visions to half a dozen versions of the show. I am thrilled that Mary is now bringing her unique artistry to this funny, insightful, and richly theatrical work, and I’m happier still that Candide will launch a season during which we celebrate a decade of work in our Dearborn Street home. Throughout this season, our Onstage magazine will feature a series of articles allowing you to reflect with us on some of the glories of the past ten years here, successes made possible in large part by our state-of-the art facility.

Here’s to a remarkable past decade at the Goodman Theatre—and to the many, many achievements to come.

Robert Falls
Artistic Director, Goodman Theatre

We hope you are as excited as we are about Candide! Please share your questions and comments with us below.

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