By: Bry Woodard
On March 9, almost every bright red seat in Hall Auditorium was covered by at least one butt cheek. Everyone was there to experience Leonard Bernstein’s rendition of Voltaire’s novel: Candide.
As the overture began the orchestra, under the direction of Raphael Jiménez, immediately brought the light of spring to the hall without flipping a switch. A fast and bright piece, the overture was owned by the violins and flute swelling and falling, mirroring the plot of the story that was about to be told. The curtain rose to reveal the cast standing tall dressed in bright shirts and skirts as they welcomed everyone present to Westphalia. The lighting and clever stage design by Michael Grube created a realistic atmosphere that allowed for the story to come to life.
“Life is Happiness Indeed,” “The Best of All Possible Worlds,” and “O Happy We” introduce the ‘Life is Good’ theme that the work embodies and that Dr. Pangloss, a parody of the optimist philosopher played by Brain Wacker, teaches. Through these songs we meet our other main characters, Candide (Jared Cohen), Cunégonde (Isabella Lopez), Paquette (Kyra Leetz), and Max (Peter Juengst) and learn of Candide’s love for Cunégonde. After Cunégonde’s father banishes Candide, Candide breaks into his first of many songs of lament and grief. In this work “It Must Be So” the viola brought notes of hope letting the audience know this wasn’t the end of Candide’s journey.
And so begins a seemingly endless cycle of hope and tragedy as Candide travels from port to port. In each of these places, Candide’s faith in his old teacher’s philosophy is tested by hardship from sinking ships to being hung. With every new destination, Candide is mysteriously reunited with his deceased friends. While the strings took precedent in the songs of grief, the songs of joyous reunions were dominated by the wind instruments. Soren Edman and Alex Ayoub on trumpet and Ethan Pound and Even Beachy on trombone along with Sophie Griffith-Oh and Kassi Wilson on the horn filled the hall with cheerful and playful solos that had audience members bobbing their heads and swaying their shoulders.
Cunègonde’s friend, the Old Lady (Genevieve Dilan) stole the stage, showcasing her range and tone in “I Am Easily Assimilated”. She also shone in “What’s the Use?” which easily takes the cake for the best song in the show— an incredibly catchy tune where the percussion shined and even had audience members singing along. Dilan also elicited multiple strings of laughter as she informed Cunégonde and Candide about her trials and tribulations including her now missing butt cheek. Speaking of laughs, Travis Guillory also had the crowd howling with his hilarious yet creepy portrayal of the Governor of Buenos Aires. The story ends with Candide and Cunégonde getting married, ditching their old philosophy, and concluding that life is what you make of it in the touching closing ensemble number “Make Your Garden Grow.”
This repetitive yet entertaining operetta allowed for everyone to shine, especially the chamber orchestra. In a story with so many twists and turns and deaths and reincarnations, it was wonderful to be able to rely on the orchestra knowing whatever was happening on stage would be ten times better because of the talent that was down in the pit. The director, Jonathon Field, can retire knowing his last production at Oberlin College was a hit.