Candide (1956) is a comic operetta by Leonard Bernstein, based on the novella of the same name by Voltaire. It has existed in many versions but is now generally performed with a book by Hugh Wheeler. The primary lyricist was Richard Wilbur. Other contributors to the text were John Latouche, Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman, Stephen Sondheim, and Leonard Bernstein. Hershy Kay and John Mauceri contributed orchestrations.
Candide is most famous for its colorful and varied score, many parts of which are very well known, especially in musical circles.
Candide first opened on Broadway as a musical on December 1, 1956. It featured Robert Rounseville as Candide, a young Barbara Cook as Cunegonde, Max Adrian as Dr. Pangloss, and Irra Petina as the Old Lady. While this production was not a huge success, the music became an almost instant hit in the music world. Some music historians tend to put that down to the fact that New York at the time didn't want very much to do with an operetta pretending to be a musical. Others blame Hellman's overtly political and topical book, which drew parallels between the Inquisition and McCarthyism.
Without Bernstein's involvement, the show underwent a series of Broadway revivals under the direction of Harold Prince, previously known for, among other work, producing the first run of Fiddler on the Roof. Lillian Hellman, the author of the original book, refused to let any of her work be used in the revival, so Prince commissioned a new, one-act book from Hugh Wheeler. The lyrics were worked on by the team of artists listed above.
In response to requests from opera companies for a more legitimate version, the show was expanded based on Wheeler's book. The two-act opera house version contains most of Bernstein's music, including some songs that were not orchestrated for the original production. It was first performed by the New York City Opera in 1982 under Prince's direction, and ran for 34 performances. Since, opera companies around the world have performed this version. The production continues to be a staple of the City Opera's repertoire, with performances underway in Spring 2005.
In 1989, by which point Hellman had died, Bernstein undertook a recording project that expressed his final wishes regarding Candide, incorporating what he thought were the best lyrics from all the contributors (including Hellman) and what he thought were the best portions of music. This recording incorporates a great deal of music and is generally thought to be too long to be produced theatrically.
A recent major production of Candide was directed by Lonny Price in a semi-staged concert production with the New York Philharmonic under Marin Alsop. It ran for four performances, May 5–8, 2004. This production was also broadcast on PBS's Great Performances. The cast featured Paul Groves as Candide, Kristin Chenoweth as Cunegonde, Sir Thomas Allen as Dr. Pangloss, Patti LuPone as the Old Lady, with choruses from both Westminster Choir College and Juilliard completing the performance cast. This production included the rarely sung duet between Cunegonde and the Old Lady, "We Are Women".
Candide is most famous for its popular overture which is often performed alone as a concert piece.
Despite the initial reaction, Candide has achieved an enormous popularity. It is very popular among major music schools as a student show because of its wonderful music and the spectacular opportunities it offers to talented student singers. Its overture is played in concert halls all over the world on a regular basis, and is recognizable to those of a certain age as the theme song to the Dick Cavett show, and still used today to herald Cavett onstage during his talk-show guest-spots. It is widely regarded as representative of Leonard Bernstein's finest theatrical work. Because of its sparkle, wit, breadth of emotion and musical impact, Candide is often cited as one of the best musical works for the stage to come out of the 20th century.