The Menier Chocolate Factory has a long tradition of producing quality musicals, and their recent production of Candide is no exception. Performed in the round by a strong company of actors, it is a joy from start to finish.
Candide is a young man in love with his benefactor’s daughter, determined to follow his tutor’s creed of mindless optimism. After his affair is discovered and he is cast out, he embarks upon a series of adventures that should be enough to test the strongest sense of optimism. But somehow he manages to keep his sense of delight, even in the face of adversity.
Leonard Bernstein’s operetta, which was roundly criticised on its debut in 1956, is an over-the-top and flighty affair, but Matthew White’s production recognises this and revels in the silliness. Coincidences abound, characters disappear and come back from the dead, and the plot moves from the battlefields of Europe to the mountains of South America and from thence to the gambling tables of Italy. Based on Voltaire’s satirical novel of 1759, the story satirises the concept that “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”, drawing laughs for the sheer ludicrousness of the idea.
The score is witty and entertaining, performed outstandingly by a fantastic cast including Fra Fee as Candide, whose appeal makes it easy for you to root for him. Also excellent is Scarlett Strallen as Candide’s love interest Cunegonde, whose brilliant rendition of ‘Glitter and Be Gay’ brings the house down. Also worthy of mention is James Dreyfus as the unfailingly positive Pangloss.
This is a brilliant production, very funny and witty but also moving, in the final song ‘Make Our Garden Grow’, when we see that the characters have learned from their experiences. Definitely recommended.