Candide: From Voltaire to Bernstein and Sondheim



I first encountered Voltaire’s witty and scatty satire Candide when I was at school ( it was a set text for A level); and it has stayed with me. Not least because of the glorious musical by Lenny Bernstein ( with lyrics by Sondheim) that he wrote in the 1950’s. Initially a flop, it has slowly become part of the classic repertoire and it is currently playing in a really superlative production at my belovedly engaging  Meunier Chocolate Factory in Southwark. The company are all minor ‘stars’ in he musical world and they hurl themselves into it with great joy and passion. The music soars. Go and see it! It is done in the round, but one tip –  avoid sitting in the front row!

The story, as is well known, tells of the young hero and his tutor philosopher Dr Pangloss who teaches him well that we ‘live in the best of the all possible worlds’ (cue for a song, if ever I heard one!). Throughout the plot he encounters one disaster or cruelty that try to make him disbelieve this ‘ profound’ philosophy – indeed he, his loved and his friends, are all raped and slaughtered several times ( and miraculously return to life in new forms!). Ultimately, disillusioned  and tragic, he decides the only way out is to leave the mainstream, build a little and farm and work hard to make his garden grow with his friends. The journey through life becomes an excuse for much ribald and pantomime black humour.

The story is simple as is the message. Don’t trust the theorists and philosophers. Know man’s inhumanity to humanity – for all time: it is not likely to go away. Live your life in small ways for the good – create your own garden. These ideas have lingered with me for many years.



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