.Cabrillo Takes on Leonard Bernstein’s Challenging ‘Candide’

Extravagant sets, complicated staging and operatic vocals make it one of Crocker’s most ambitious productions

Cabrillo Stage has returned in full-force this summer for a season of theatrical musicals. 

After Covid canceled the 2020 season, the company moved to Cabrillo College’s outdoor amphitheater in 2021. But this summer, the company is once again holding shows inside the Crocker Theater.

A production of Grease ran from late June to July. Leonard Bernstein’s Candide opened July 22 and will run through Aug. 14, on weekends and select Thursdays.

Artistic Director John Nordgren said that Candide had been planned for 2020. They had already cast the production when things shut down.

“We had such a fine cast,” he says. “Amazing singers, lots of professionals involved. So we thought, let’s try it again. We offered everyone the same contract and invited them back.”

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Based on the satirical, fast-paced 1759 novella by Voltaire about a sheltered title character who has his eyes opened to the realities of life on a series of misadventures around the world, Candide features music by Bernstein, with lyrics by Richard Wilbur and book by Hugh Wheeler. 

This Voltaire adaptation was conceived in the 1950s by Lillian Hellman, one of the 20th century’s greatest playwrights (The Children’s Hour, The Little Foxes, etc.)—but it was Bernstein who convinced her to make it a musical. Hellman was reeling at the time, having been blacklisted in the McCarthy era after standing up to the House Committee on Unamerican Activities. Candide’s debut on Broadway in 1956 surely didn’t do much to raise her spirits—it was a critical and commercial flop. But as the “comic operetta” underwent a number of innovative revivals and revisions over the years, it came to be appreciated for its wit, and for Bernstein’s incredible music—some of the best of his entire career. Candide as performed now is far more faithful to Voltaire’s work than Hellman’s version was, and produced the Broadway standards “Glitter and Be Gay” and “The Best of All Possible Worlds.” Cabrillo’s production is directed by Gary John La Rosa, with musical director Cheryl Anderson.

Lavish sets, complex staging and operatic vocals make this show an ambitious one for Cabrillo Stage.

“Candide is one of the most difficult shows you could possibly do,” Nordgren says. “It’s also my favorite, my ‘bucket list’ show. It’s Cheryl’s favorite, too.”

Nordgren said the 2022 summer season is crucial for Cabrillo Stage’s future. 

“Honestly, if we don’t do well this summer it’ll be difficult,” Nordgren says. “After our huge loss in 2020 … the college got us a grant, but we lost some after making a slight profit last year. So we’re a bit desperate again. We need about $300,000 just to go on.”

But everyone is remaining cautiously optimistic, he says. 

“People are turning out to the theater again,” he says. “Everyone is over the moon excited, giving their all. They can’t wait to get back onstage.”


‘Candide’ runs through Aug. 14 at the Crocker Theater at Cabrillo College, 6500 Soquel Drive, Aptos. cabrillostage.com; 831-479-6154.

1 COMMENT

  1. I can’t wait to see your Candide! My 2 loves: Voltaire & Bernstein!! I confess I did not know of this play’s existence & did not even know why or how the 2 were connected;). Truly, you & yr audiences will give it the success it deserves❣️

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