Exactly what is the best of all possible worlds? You may well ask that question before, during and after watching the delicious Broadway operetta Candide. The focus is on the hapless titular character (Lyndon Watts), who is schooled by the ever-optimistic Doctor Pangloss (Eddie Perfect). Perfect, who doubles as the philosopher Voltaire, narrates the musical mayhem that ensues with offhanded splendour. His surname is a giveaway as to just how well suited to the role he is. His timing and vocal timbre are magnificent.
We are in a place called Westphalia, a historic region of northwest Germany, and Candide lives in the Baron’s castle. One of the Baron’s children – Cunegonde (Katherine Allen) – sees Doctor Pangloss involved in some extracurricular activities with a student. Cunegonde encourages Candide to emulate Pangloss’ “experimentation” and the throes of passion overtake them. But when they declare their love for one another, the Baron will have none of it and banishes Candide from Westphalia.
Thereafter, begins a series of misadventures for Candide that span the globe. For those old enough, think Women’s Weekly World Discovery Tour without the niceties. Several times Candide comes close to meeting his maker, but on each occasion, he finds a way through his travails. In so doing, more than once he unexpectedly reconnects with Doctor Pangloss and the woman he firmly believes in his one true love, Cunegonde. Only, over his circuitous journey, Candide’s utopian vision of Cunegonde tarnishes and his expectations are tempered.
Victorian Opera’s take on this delightfully satirical operetta with an intoxicating score by Leonard Bernstein is bloomin’ marvellous. They have assembled a veritable potpourri of talent. Watts is a revelation as Candide and soprano Katherine Allen soars to great heights as Cunegonde. They are ably strengthened by the seven other principals. I have already referenced Eddie Perfect, but add to that the likes of Maria Mercedes, Euan Fistrovic Doidge as Cunegonde’s brother Maximilian and Troy Sussman. I can never get enough of the bold and brilliant bass of Eddie Muliaumaseali’i, who plays Candide’s valet, Cacambo.
Bolstered by a 16-strong chorus and the might of Orchestra Victoria, Candide gets off to a stirring start thanks to the enthusiasm of lively conductor Benjamin Northey. The off the wall set and costume design of Dann Barber, including a transformational old caravan with hidden treasures, are a sight for sore eyes. They suit the piece down to a tee. With book by Hugh Wheeler, after Voltaire, and lyrics by Richard Wilbur, Candide is a rare treat. Choreographer Freya List and director Dean Bryant have ensured patrons go away mighty satisfied that they have seen something special.
To witness this orchestrated chaos, rush to the Palais Theatre, where Candide is playing, until 10th February, 2024.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Idomeneo (Victorian Opera and Opera Australia) – opera review
- 9 to 5: The Musical (Arts Centre Melbourne) – theatre review
- Vivid White (MTC) – theatre review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.