Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 19, 2009


Berkshire Theatre Festival, Stockbridge, MA
through August 15, 2009
by Shera Cohen

Many know that the musical "Candide" was composed by Leonard Bernstein. That's about all that even the most avid theatergoer is aware of. This can change, as Berkshire Theatre Festival mounts the satirical operetta based on the work of Voltaire, yet set in the 21st century - well, more or less.

The theme that life as we know it is "the best of all possible worlds" runs through both the dialogue and music. Also running (literally) is a hodgepodge of characters, scenes, and strange people. The action begins in a colorful jungle gym school setting full of children and their teacher Dr. Pangloss - the latter, effectively portrayed by Ben Rosenblatt - who is another thread stringing the plot along.

Songs like "Life Is Happiness" and "Oh Happy We" fill the Pollyanna-like Act I. The story increasingly adds war, death, and rape, so that perhaps the audience is not viewing such a lovely world onstage? Like "Pippin" and "Into the Woods," this musical twists its plot and fleshes out its important characters from one dimension to two or three. McCaela Donovan (heroine Cunegonda) is a charmer with excellent comedic timing and mannerisms, not to mention a wonderful soprano voice. Her "Glitter and Be Gay" is the play's showstopper. Julia Broder (The Old Woman) portrays a gypsy character with bold Lucille Ball-like humor and a tad of reality.

Director Ralph Petillo deserves bravos for manipulating his cast of 20 around the stage, down the aisles, on the floor, and perched on scaffolds into nearly as many separate scenes. Two pianists hold it all together through 22 songs. Important to add is the fact that every lyric of every song is distinct.

Opening night saw a full house. Some youth attended. At first, "Candide" seems like a fairytale for children. They can certainly enjoy the play and excellent production values. Yet, like the old "Rocky & Bullwinkle" cartoons, there are two layers of humor - one blatant and the other black. The adults will easily "get" and thoroughly enjoy both.