Candide has one of the more interesting histories among Broadway musicals. Its first run in 1956 was not a resounding success, despite the collaboration of some amazing talents, including (in addition to composer Leonard Bernstein) the writers Lillian Hellman and Dorothy Parker. The original cast album, however, did become something of a cult favorite in the years to come, and Candide was finally revived in the 1970s, but with the libretto largely rewritten and with much of the music altered or dropped altogether.
I think Candide was ahead of its time; its genesis was as a reaction to McCarthyism, but (as with Voltaire's original novella) it still stands as a rebuke to authority, both religious and secular, as well as to modern-day feel-good pop psychology, the descendant of Leibniz, whose philosophy was criticized by Voltaire himself.
And musically, several of Candide's numbers are precursors to Bernstein's later West Side Story, particularly in the use of the Latin rhythms that Bernstein so loved.
Since that '70s-era revival the show has seen many more performances in theaters and even opera houses, but always in different, rewritten versions, adding and deleting scenes and songs. The following clips come from a semi-staged concert version at Lincoln Center, with the New York Philharmonic, in 2004. I first caught it when PBS broadcast it as part of its "Great Performances" series and liked it so much I bought the DVD. This incarnation of Candide is bright, tuneful and irreverent, and represents a good, balanced mix of the best parts of previous productions. It proves to me that a semi-staged performance may be the best way to present this show which has had such a rocky history. Enjoy!
The best-known numbers from Candide are the overture (a perennial favorite of orchestras across the globe) and this affectionate spoof of operatic convention, "Glitter and be Gay," a tour-de-force for singer Kristin Chenoweth.
Here's the auto-da-fé scene (during which Candide is condemned for heresy), irreverently imagined in this production as a sporting event, with a surprise "guest star" who you will immediately recognize (but I'm not giving it away!). This scene, though heavily cut in this particular production, is the part of Candide that most directly confronted McCarthyism.
The action of Candide takes place in a variety of locations across both Old and New Worlds. Here is the "Paris Waltz," a brief instrumental introduction to the City of Light illustrating our hero's arrival in that city; it gives more flavor of the approach of this production.
And this is "Dear Boy," one of two numbers that have become known informally as the "syphilis songs." (Dr. Pangloss is played by the inimitable Sir Thomas Allen.)
Watch this clip to catch the overture and first few minutes of the show; it gives a good intro and taste of the production in case you haven't yet been able to decide whether watching the entire show is for you.
And here, finally, is the entire glorious thing: