CANDIDE

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Book by

LILLIAN HELLMAN

Lyrics by

RICHARD WILBUR

Music by

LEONARD BERNSTEIN

A revised one-act version includes a new libretto by HUGH WHEELER and additional lyrics by STEPHEN SONDHEIM

CANDIDE was first produced at the Martin Beck Theatre, New York, on December 1, 1956, with Robert Rounseville as "Candide," Max Adrian as "Pangloss," Barbara Cook as "Cunegonde," Louis Edmonds as "Maximilian," and Irra Petina as "Old Lady." A revised one-act version by Hugh Wheeler and Stephen Sondheim opened at the Chelsea Theatre Centre, Brooklyn, on December 19, 1973.

VOLTAIRE himself, the author of the original work on which the musical is based, serves as narrator for this classic satire of mindless optimism. Moreover, as the evening progresses, he participates in the story, taking on the rôles of important characters that Candide meets in the course of his journey.

The play begins in Westphalia, more specifically, in the castle of the Baron Thunder-Ten-Tronck where Voltaire introduces the principal characters: the Baron and Baroness, Cunegonde--their beautiful and innocent virgin daughter, Maximilian--their handsome son, Candide--their handsome bastard nephew, and Paquette-- the Baroness' buxom serving maid. They are all terribly beautiful and, aware of their perfection, supremely happy--for they have, after all, been taught to be so by their tutor, Dr. Pangloss, who preaches the philosophy that all is for the best in "The Best of All Possible Worlds." Today, however, as class comes to an end, Paquette is instructed to remain in order to take an additional lesson in advanced physics. Cunegonde, not wishing to be left behind in this subject, finds an excuse to return to the classroom where she finds that the good doctor has mounted the willing maidservant. Innocently asking for an academic explanation, Cunegonde receives an elaborate and impromptu lecture on the specific gravitational forces which it was allegedly the aim of the Doctor and Paquette to produce by arranging themselves in this particular position. Intrigued by this new curriculum, Cunegonde rushes off to find Candide and put this new bit of knowledge to the test, and happily, the two of them agree that it is indeed a pleasant bit of philosophy!

Unfortunately, feeling no shame and having made no attempt to hide themselves from view, the young couple is interrupted in their carnal experiment by the squeals of young Maximilian who has spied them through a window. The entire family quickly descends upon the innocent lovers, and a startled Candide finds himself forever banished from Westphalia. As he trudges off, never to return home, Candide sings of his loyalty to Dr. Pangloss' philosophy. There must be a very good reason, after all, for his banishment, for as the doctor has taught him: everything is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds. Just at that moment, however, the Bulgarians decide to invade Westphalia by the exact same route that Candide has chosen to leave it, and a chance encounter results in our hero being tied up in a sack. The Bulgarians go on to invade the castle and slaughter the entire family except for Cunegonde, who a certain entreprenurial soldier, thinking to make his fortune, has chosen to keep alive in order to pimp her out to the rest of the troops at 20 ducats a pop. As the battle wages on, Candide's captors are killed, and he is rescued by a troupe of traveling players. Cunegonde, after being thoroughly ravished by the troupes, makes use of this rush of sexual knowledge to become a sought-after prostitute, and eventually the mistress, in Lisbon, of both a rich Jew and the Grand Inquisitor. The two men, happily, have no difficulty dividing the girl's time between them, for they have agreed to a convenient time-sharing arrangement.

Meanwhile, Candide happens to stumble upon Dr. Pangloss who has, apparently, survived the attack, but lost his nose as a result of syphilis. He philosophizes that this is still the best of all possible worlds, however, for syphilis is a product of the New World, and if it were not for the New World he would never have been blessed with the experience of potatoes, tobacco, and chocolate. He soon makes the mistake, however, of expounding his philosophy before a fake corpse which proves, in fact, to be a spy of the Inquisition. Both men are arrested for heresy and dragged off to Lisbon where Pangloss is sentenced by the Inquisitor and hanged. Candide, for his part, escapes with a whipping that leaves him near dead. After his beating, a kind old lady rescues our hero and, with the help of magic ointments, gradually restores him to health. After he has recovered, the Old Lady sneaks him into Cunegonde's apartment. Candide is thrilled to find his former lover alive, but the reunion is cut short by the arrival of the Jew who has come to pay his mistress a visit. He is enfuriated to find Candide in the apartment and draws his sword, fully intending to slice the young man to pieces, but in his pursuit, he drops his sword, and when Candide helpfully picks it up, the Jew rushes upon it, accidentally impaling himself. Later that night, when the Inquisitor arrives, Candide, driven to jealousy by Cunegonde's descriptions of her repeated ravishment, impales him as well. Now the two young lovers must flee the city, for both of these men were highly esteemed citizens of Lisbon and their murder will not be taken lightly.

Making their escape, Candide and Cunegonde, along with the Old Lady, board a vessel heading for the New World, but, as luck would have it, the vessel is attacked by pirates, and Cunegonde, along with the Old Lady, is carried off for another round of ravishment. When he arrives in the New World, Candide is surprised to find both Paquette and Maximilian alive and sold into slavery. Candide brings them up-to-date on what has happened and swears that he will rescue Cunegonde once more and marry her. Maximilian, however, is still a Thunder-Ten-Tronck, and furious at the suggestion that his sister should marry a bastard, begins chasing Candide madly. Candide hides behind a statue and, as luck would have it, accidentally knocks the statue over, crushing Maximilian to death instantly.

That night, Candide and Paquette escape into the jungle of South America and, as luck would have it, stumble upon the perfect city of El Dorado. Here everything is quite magnificent! The streets are made of diamonds! The animals can not only talk, they can sing as well! Paradise, however, is tiring, and eventually, after loading two sheep with gold and jewels, Candide and Paquette return to Cartagena only to learn that the pirates have taken Cunegonde to Constantinople. The Governor offers Candide a boat to pursue the pirates, which he readily accepts, only to learn after the governor has made off with the sheep and the gold that the boat is full of holes! Still, Candide, Paquette, and the Old Lady, who has rejoined them after being rejected by the pirates, finally make their way to Constantinople where they buy Cunegonde's freedom with the gold they have recovered. They use the last of their remaining fortune to buy the freedom of Maximilian who has somehow wound up in the same household after being miraculously uncrushed!

Now, reunited but without a penny to their name, our little band of heroes isn't quite sure what to do next, so they decide to visit the Wisest Man in the World who, quite luckily, is rumored to live in a nearby cave. There they find Dr. Pangloss, miraculously unhanged, and, having abandoned his old "best of all possible worlds" philosophy, spouting a new one: the work ethic. Candide, still quite commited to the good doctor, decides to follow this new creed, buy a little farm, grow a garden, and milk the cow which they have managed to acquire. Even as everyone agrees that this is, of course, a splendid decision, the cow falls dead with the pox.

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FURTHER STUDIES:

  • Candide - A brief history and synopsis of the musical.
  • On the Town - A synopsis and brief history of the musical by Leonard Bernstein.
  • West Side Story - A brief history of the musical by Leonard Bernstein.
  • Purchase Sheet Music from all your favorite musicals!
  • Search eBay! for CANDIDE collectibles

This synopsis for "Candide" was written by J. Crabb and originally published on this website on April 4, 2002.

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