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REVIEW: Candide by Leonard Bernstein

Review by Markus Hamence – Performance date: Thursday 23 May 2024, Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide, South Australia

Last night, I had the wonderful pleasure of attending Leonard Bernstein’s operetta Candide at Adelaide’s iconic Her Majesty’s Theatre. I’ve got to tell you, it was an evening of sheer delight and musical brilliance that left the audience buzzing with excitement and admiration. It’s been over a decade since State Opera South Australia and State Theatre Company South Australia have joined forces to produce a piece of work and thank gosh they have collaborated once again because this theatrical opera is a joyful, high-energy romp that has you chuckling throughout. Let’s get down to it…

A Historical Gem in a Modern Setting

Her Majesty’s Theatre, with its rich history and recent renovations, provided the perfect backdrop for this classic operetta. The theatre itself is a masterpiece, blending the charm of yesteryear with modern comforts. Acoustically this theatre is a treaure and audible wonder, so as I walked through the grand entrance and took my seat with my friend, we couldn’t help but feel a sense of anticipation for the night ahead.

Co-Directors; Amy Campbell and Mitchell Butel

A Masterful Production

From the moment the overture began and the heavy curtain raised, it was clear that this production of Candide was something special. A large orchestra was revealed and an even larger choir (which formed an impressive back-drop) appeared. Impressive, alongside the colourful polka dot setting. The orchestra, under the baton of the incredibly talented conductor in Anthony Hunt, brought Bernstein’s vibrant score to life with precision and passion. Each note was a testament to Bernstein’s genius, and the musicians’ dedication to their craft was evident in every bar. The musicianship is sublime.

Stellar Performances

The all-star cast of Candide delivered performances that were nothing short of spectacular. The titular role of Candide was played by a tenor whose voice was as clear and bright as a summer morning by Alexander Lewis. The first time I’ve seen him in a role and his talent does run-over, engaging and effervescent in performance skill. The character’s journey from naive optimism to disillusionment and back to a kind of hopeful realism was portrayed with both depth and humor. I’m now a fan of Lewis.

The character of Cunegonde played dynamically by Annie Aitken, with her infamous aria ‘Glitter and Be Gay’, was a showstopper. The soprano’s virtuosic display of vocal agility and comic timing had the audience in stitches and awe. Her sparkling costume and exuberant performance truly embodied the spirit of the piece. Aitken is breathtaking from all angles.

Mitchell Butel (also Co-Director as mentioned) had his hands full and performed brilliantly as the storyteller in Dr Pangloss. Played delightfully and at time gave me Alan Cummings vibes (a compliment of course). I’m always impressed with what Butel brings to the table, he’s a freaking gem – Thank goodness we have him in South Australia 🙂

One of Australia’s leading theatre ladies acts, sings and dances (show choreography by Co-Director Amy Campbell) up a storm as ‘The Old (Veteran) Lady’ and does so with every fibre of her being as we have come to expect from her. She’s a bloody dynamo. She’s cheeky, naughty and flirtatious in every moment. Bravo dear Caroline.

It doesn’t stop there… Adelaide’s German Boy Wonder, Hans, as Mazimilian, thrills and delights us with his debut with these said companies and holds command easily and effortlessly not unlike his well attuned cabaret shows. The crowd love Hans, and he plays up to them.

Paquette played by Taylah Johns is stunning, a ray of sunshine on stage with a stunning voice. The swaggering John Longmuir is always charming and his confidence on stage is pulp-able, he knows where he comes to life and his characters are evidence of his finely tuned chops.

Singing sensation and cabaret darling Michaela Burger, Rosie Hosking, Ezra Juanta and Rod Schultz are equally stunning and take the spotlight at various times during the 2 hours and 40 minutes (20 minute interval included) and enthral us with oodles of charisma.

There is literally NO WEAK LINK in the casting and with such a star studded cast noone is left in the shadows, each shine brightly and the unison we see is solid.

A Visual Feast

The set (Ailsa Paterson) and costume (Brendan De La Hay) design were equally impressive, transporting us from the quaint innocence of Westphalia to the exotic locales of Lisbon, Paris, and beyond. Each scene was a visual feast, with lavish costumes and innovative sets that seamlessly transformed before our eyes. The use of lighting (Gavin Norris) to enhance the mood and highlight key moments was particularly effective, adding another layer of emotion to the story.

Witty and Timeless

What struck me most about this production was how timeless and relevant Candide felt. Voltaire’s biting satire, combined with Bernstein’s witty and exuberant score, created a powerful commentary on the human condition that resonates just as strongly today as it did in the 18th century. The direction cleverly highlighted these themes, balancing the humor with moments of genuine poignancy.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, Leonard Bernstein’s Candide at Her Majesty’s Theatre was an evening of unforgettable music, exceptional performances, and visual splendor. It was a reminder of the power of operetta to entertain, provoke thought, and bring people together. If you have the chance to see this production, I highly recommend it. It’s a joyous celebration of the resilience of the human spirit, wrapped in a package of musical brilliance and theatrical magic.

‘Stars?’ you ask?… FIVE Brilliant, Dazzling, High Energy Stars 🙂

Until next time, keep exploring and enjoying the arts!

Candide by Leonard Bernstein
Her Majesty’s Theatre 23-25 May 2024

Markus Hamence interviews Caroline O’Connor
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