Arts: Musical: Sweetness but too much lightness


DESPITE THE fact that it flopped at its 1956 premiere, in the history of musicals there has scarcely been a bolder, wittier or more majestically operatic score than Leonard Bernstein's for his unwieldy Candide.

For that reason alone, everyone from Lillian Hellman to John Wells and Jonathan Miller by way of Dorothy Parker and Stephen Sondheim (and plenty more) has tried to turn this extravagant but famously intractable musical dramatisation of Voltaire into viable theatre.

A significant body of opinion believes that the show is best realised on disc.

Thus we can only applaud the spirit of endeavour behind the decision to try to come up with a new theatrical solution to the problem in the shape of yet another version, this time for the National Theatre, with a "new" book, written and directed by John Caird, assisted by Trevor Nunn.

Bernstein recorded his score with a heavy-duty operatic cast and the London Symphony Orchestra, so when the National's thin-sounding 14-piece band strikes up the famous overture your spirits sink. Musically, matters improve significantly but even at the start there's a bonus in the dominating presence of Simon Russell Beale as the narrator, Voltaire. Caught in the spotlight in the centre of the vast, bare Olivier stage, he beadily eyeballs the entire audience with invincible imperiousness.

Voltaire now has a larger slice of the action, guiding you through Candide's labyrinthine physical and philosophical journey from naive optimism to true enlightenment, and whenever Russell Beale is in charge you feel unusually connected to the action. But even the strength of this new thread cannot bind the show together into a satisfying whole.

John Napier's spare designs - little more than a cunningly deployed set of packing cases - throw the focus on to the actors. The National's ensemble company uses Nicholas Nickleby-style storytelling techniques to whip up different atmospheres in locations across Europe, from drowning at sea to a grand ball in Venice, with gusts of smoke to enhance Paul Pyant's lighting.

Beverley Klein brings the house down as the ill-used Old Lady. She grabs her big scene where she lists suffering every indignity known to womankind - she's been left with one buttock (don't ask) - with tremendously engaging zest, before going one further by launching into a splendidly assured and terrifically funny rendition of "I Am Easily Assimilated". Similarly, Simon Day's ludicrously tall and pompous Maximilian seizes his comedy with delicious aplomb.

Yet the musical and dramatic power of these performances - and that of Denis Quilley as Martin, who refuses to believe in the goodness of mankind - also highlights the fundamental weakness. Not for nothing is this known as Bernstein's Candide. Good acting is not enough. The overall feeling generated is that of a very long story with an outstanding, but separate, score. The approach is typified by Daniel Evans as a nicely boyish Candide.

His sweet voice is simply too light to carry the emotional intensity of the music. Similarly, Peter Darling's choreography is often imaginative but you keep wishing it would lift the temperature to another level to drive the musical motor.

All the stops are pulled out for the hair-raising choral finale, but by then it's too late. Caird's version is more faithful to Voltaire's ideas and has impressive clarity, but the plodding rhythm of his production means that it fails to take fire. Ultimately, it's caught between stools. In terms of music and its dramatic sincerity, Candide is now a chamber piece. But stranded in the Olivier the drama deflates. It would make for economic madness, but I wonder what it would be like in the Cottesloe?

In rep, National Theatre (0171-452 3000)

Arts and Entertainment
Jude Law in Black Sea


In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops


Arts and Entertainment
Full circle: Wu-Tang’s Method Man Getty

Music review

Arts and Entertainment
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game