Bernstein Classic “Candide” Makes Lawrence University Debut

Leonard’s Bernstein’s popular operetta “Candide” will be performed March 4-7 at Lawrence University for the first time.

Based on Voltaire’s 1759 satirical novel of the same name, “Candide” will be staged March 4-6 at 8 p.m. and March 7 at 3 p.m. in Stansbury Theatre, 420 E. College Ave. Tickets, at $10 for adults and $5 for senior citizens and students, are available through the Lawrence University Box Office, 920-832-6749.

Like Voltaire’s novella, Bernstein’s operetta is a bitter critique of optimism and the idea that “all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.” The story follows Candide, the young illegitimate cousin of a noble family who grows up in a castle. He learns from his mentor, Pangloss, that everything in life happens for a reason and all is for the best.

But Candide’s ideas of optimism are painfully tempered by life’s hardships: his love, Cunegonde, is killed in an attack by the Bulgarian army; he sees the population of Lisbon wiped out by an earthquake; and Pangloss is hanged for heresy. Ultimately, Candide realizes “we must cultivate our garden” and make the best of what we are given in life.

“‘Candide’ is a show that has perennial appeal,” said Bonnie Koestner, associate professor of music and vocal coach for the production. “Leonard Bernstein has created a happy marriage between Broadway and opera. His score bubbles with fun and frivolity, yet the piece deals with some of life’s most serious questions, all wrapped up in a non-stop adventure story.”

Ben Krywosz, artistic director of Nautilus Music-Theater in St. Paul, Minn., is serving as guest stage director for the production. He is confident audiences will be surprised at how both funny and moving “Candide” can be.

“For all his musical sophistication, Bernstein was a populist at heart,” said Krywosz. “Both those qualities are evident in ‘Candide,’ wonderful toe-tapping tunes combined with a sumptuous operatic sweep.

“We’re taking a slightly unusual approach with this production, which is already a wild and crazy story,” Krywocz added. “The student performers have all been enthusiastic partners in bringing this score to life.”

First performed in 1956, Bernstein’s “Candide” presents a challenge to directors and performers, because it has been published in so many different forms, including a one-act Broadway revival and later a two-act “opera house version” first performed in New York City in 1982. Lawrence’s production will be an updated version by Krywosz in which the main characters address the audience directly, explaining Voltaire’s intentions and relating his ideas to modern life and current events as the plot unfolds.

The production features a double cast of 40 performers. Seniors Alex Gmeinder (Thursday-Saturday) and Justin Berkowitz (Friday-Sunday) portray the title role while seniors Lara Wasserman (Thursday-Saturday) and Taylor Jacobson (Friday-Sunday) play Candide’s love interest, Cunegonde. Pangloss is portrayed by senior Derrell Acon (Thursday-Saturday) and sophomore Brian Acker (Friday-Sunday).

Professor of Music David Becker will conduct the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra for the performances. Associate Professor of Theatre Arts Richmond Frielund served as set designer for the production.