The curtain rises to reveal the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra on stage, backed by two rows of singers, Overhead shining lights were strung from the ceiling.The audience, collectively, took a deep breath. Candide was about to begin. 

Bernstein’s overture, with its themes dancing and teasing between the various instruments, was conducted by Anthony Hunt, who looked as if he could dance from the podium and join in the fun, 

I did wonder, at first, if this was to be a staged performance of the operetta, given the space left for the singers, but when Mitchell Butel, as Pangloss began to narrate from the corner of the stage, my doubts were dispelled in about two seconds, both by the wit of his introduction and by the entry of Candide (Alexander Lewis)  Cunegonde (Annie Aitken) Paquette (Taylah Johns) Maximilian (Hans), all of whom were pivotal to the main story. With them were the Baroness (Rosie Hosking)and the Baron (Rod Schulz) who also played a number of other roles throughout the evening.

Candide is based on a novella by Voltaire, born in 1694.As part of the French Enlightenment he was critical of many things in his society, and, as Pangloss pointed out, things have not changed much today. Candide, the operetta, may be closer to a medieval morality play than a serious satire but the message  does come through by the end. Young Candide, through a series of circumstances usually not of his making, finds himself searching for the secret of life. Is it Love? Happiness? Money? All of the above? He discovers, after having been subjected to privation, imprisonment, trudging through jungles and deserts, the joys of a garden and family life.

Cunengonde finds that being young and beautiful has its advantages and disadvantages, but she decides that if she has love in her heart her honour is intact and she has the jewels to prove it.

Taylah Johns, making her professional debut, as Paquette, has a more realistic view of her chances in life, accepting with a smile and insouciance whatever cards she is dealt. A very auspicious start to her career.

Maximilian (Hans) also proves his resilience, recovering from the shock of finding he has a pimple, to being sold as a female slave. He is never nonplussed, and while being outrageous resists being hammy. 

The appeal of Candide, apart from the wonderful musical score, is the joy and panache of the performers, and the fact that it is very funny. Alexander Lewis plays Candide as a simple lad, with a good heart, no guile, and a voice which can reflect his feelings of joy or despair. His love for Cunegonde is his pole star throughout his adventures. Annie Aitken as Cunegonde almost steals the show with her ‘Glitter and be Gay’ number. Caroline O’Connor as the Old Lady, wickedly funny and compelling, is a show stopper. Hans as Maximilian is enormous fun in all his attires. Mitchell Butel as Pangloss full of ‘wisdom’ which he endeavours to impart to his pupils or to any one else who would listen.

The four ensemble players, Michaela Burger, Rosie Hosking, Ezra Juanta and Tod Schultz keep the action moving. The singers, behind the orchestra, join in the action, and the orchestra is there, front, centre, and excellent. The production is enhanced by the lighting designs (Gavin Norris) and the simple but very effective set and costumes (Ailsa Paterson and Brendan De La Hay)

Candide is fast, it’s fun, it’s great music, singing and acting, and it’s  only on until 25 May. Don’t miss it.

Her Majesty’s Theatre ,58 Wrote Street Adelaide

State Opera and State Theatre

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