Book Adapted from Voltaire by Hugh Wheeler
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics by Richard Wilbur
Additional Lyrics by Lillian Hellman and Dorothy Parker and Leonard Bernstein and John Latoucheand Stephen Sondheim
New Version by John Caird Based on the book by Voltaire


  • About the Show

    CANDIDE is based upon the 18th century Voltaire novel. Since its successful 1973 Broadway revival, CANDIDE has had many productions in both theaters and opera houses. The 1973 revival brought new audiences to this masterpiece in an intimate, quickly paced one-act version with an emphasis on comedy and characterization.

    Elements of the original 1953 version, along with songs that had been dropped, rewritten or re-conceived, have been added or altered in an effort to create a slightly re-imagined version of the classic CANDIDE. This version requires a large ensemble with a strong female lead. It is the perfect opportunity to showcase your trained singers of varying ages.


    Don't be put off by the length and apparent complexity of the synopsis. Although the story deals with serious and even tragic matters, it does so with an extreme lightness of touch and often with hilariously comic results. The show clips along at an astonishing pace and the use of Voltaire as a storyteller keeps the plot transparently clear and constantly witty.

    Voltaire sits in silence at the center of the stage. Suddenly his face lights up and The Overture begins as if inspired by his fertile imagination. As the music continues the stage is flooded by all the characters of his story. By the end of the overture they are assembled all around him and sing the Voltaire Chorale to the audience.

    Voltaire starts to tell his story, which begins in the country of Westphalia in the castle of the Baron of Thunder-ten-Tronck, and he introduces his central character Candide, the illegitimate son of the Baron's sister. Candide reveals his simplicity and innocence in the song "Life is Happiness Indeed". The Baron's children Maximilian and Cunegonde take up the same tune to introduce themselves in "Life is Happiness Unending", the chamber-maid Paquette joining in the final chorus along with Candide. Thus life in the castle is presented as a structured and contented social Eden with everyone knowing their place, all blissful in their own ignorance. Voltaire now introduces Pangloss - a part he plays himself! - who is Maximilian's tutor and professor of 'metaphysico-theologico-cosmologico-panology', more simply describes as 'Optimism'. He reveals the full glory of his philosophical theory in a lesson - "The Best of All Possible Worlds" - in which he convinces his four young pupils of the depth and truth of his knowledge. Pangloss then conducts his class in a simple unaccompanied chorale of faithful affirmation "Universal Good."

    All seems to be for the best...until Candide and Cunegonde fall in love and rashly assume that they will spend the rest of their lives together in marital bliss - "Oh, Happy We". The Baron is horrified at the thought of his daughter marrying a bastard and promptly kicks Candide out of the castle. Candide wanders off into the neighbouring country of Bavaria where he is press-ganged into the army just in time to fight a war against his own country of Westphalia. After a series of appallingly brutal experiences he deserts from the army and makes for Holland where he is taken to a hospice for the sick and dying by a kindly Anabaptist called James. Here he meets his tutor Pangloss again, now hideously disfigured with disease. Pangloss tells Candide that the castle of Thunder-den-Tronck was completely destroyed in the war, the Baron and his family wiped out and Cunegonde repeatedly raped and then killed by Bavarian soldiers. Candide gives his grief full rein in the in the heart-breaking "Candide's Lament". The next day Pangloss tells Candide his own story which includes an affair with the chamber-maid Paquette - an affair wehioch has left him with a fatal dose of the pox. Candide is horrified but Pangloss justifies the disease with his customary optimism - "Dear Boy".
    While Candide's story has taken him to the depths of despair in Holland, Cunegonde, contrary to Pangloss's belief, has survived the war but has been sold in sexual slavery to a series of officers and aristocrats in Paris and Vienna - "Paris Waltz". She ends up in Portugal, mistress to a wealthy Jewish banker, Don Issacar. While at mass one day she catches the eye of the Cardinal Inquisitor of Lisbon who forces Don Issacar into sharing Cunegonde's favours with him, on pain of a visit from the Inquisition. Thus Cunegonde is trapped - a victim of her own powers of attraction as well as her strong personal taste for luxury - "Glitter and Be Gay".

    Pangloss recovers from the pox with the loss of only one ear and one eye. The kindly Anabaptist James has to go to Lisbon on business and decides to take along his new philospher friends, Pangloss and Candide, but they are shipwrecked in the Bay of Portugal and James is drowned. Surviving the wreck, Pangloss and Candide and Pangloss have no sooner arrived in Lisbon than the city is struck by a devastating earthquake which kills thirty thousand of its citizens. Pangloss's attempt to justify this terrible event as a philosophical necessity is overheard by agents of the Inquisition and both friends are arrested, Pangloss for blasphemy and Candide for listening to him. They are dragged before the Inquisition which is restoring control after the earthquake by hanging and burning as many foreigners, heretics and Jews as they can get their hands on. After a mockery of a trial, Candide is flogged and Panglossis hanged - "Auto-da-Fe". Witnessing these terrible events is Cunegonde who is there as the guest of the Grand Inquisitor. In great secrecy she sends her servant, the Old Woman, to nurse Candide back to health.

    A week later, Candide is taken to see Cunegonde at Don Issacar's palace. At first unable to believe that she is still alive, Candide is overjoyed to see her again and they have an ecstatic reunion - "You Were Dead You Know". Don Issacar returns unexpectedly and in a rage of jealousy tries to kill Cunegonde. Candide, trained to kill in the Bavarian army, intervenes and runs Don Issacar through with his sword. Enter the Grand Inquisitor, expecting a night of passion with Cunegonde. Overcome with jealousy and fear, and in revenge for Cunegonde's loss of honour, Candide runs him through as well. Candide, Cunegonde and the Old Woman flee into the mountains, heading for the Spanish border. They finally stop in a little town in the hills of the Sierra Nevada. As they wait in the noon day sun for the end of the siesta, the Old Woman tells the story of her life to the young lovers - a fantastic tale of noble birth followed by appalling deprivation, poverty and distress. As the suspicious townsfolk awake from their siestas, the Old Woman makes friends with them - "I Am Easily Assimilated". By the end of the evening the newcomers have been joyfully assimilated into the heart of the town. Candide in particular is befriended by Cacambo, an honest and practical jack-of-all-trades, who offers himself as Candide's servant. The next day Candide, Cunegonde, Cacambo and the Old Woman ride off to Cadiz, resolved to escape the pursuit of the Inquisition by emigrating to the New World – "Quartet Finale" - and so Act One comes to a gloriously optimistic conclusion.

    The four friends arrive in South America, disembarking on the quayside at Montevideo. As Candide and Cacambo go off in search of the Governor to get commissions in the army to fight against the Jesuit rebels, Cunegonde and the Old Woman consider the grim likelihood that they will be living in poverty in a dreary colonial outpost. The Old Woman reminds Cunegonde that they have at least retained their feminine charms - charms they could put to good use if required - "We Are Women". Candide returns with the Governor, a vainglorious womaniser who takes an instant fancy to Cunegonde. As Candide and Cacambo go off to review their new troops, the Governor declares his passion to Cunegonde - "My Love." Cunegonde is unhappy about betraying Candide but the Old Woman convinces her that marriage to the Governor would be financially advantageous to all of them, including Candide. The Governor takes Cunegonde off to his palace. Candide and Cacambo return to the quayside to find the Old Woman alone. She tells them a terrible lie - that a ship has just arrived from Portugal and the town is swarming with Inquisition men looking for the villain who killed the Grand Inquisitor. Candide and Cacambo flee in terror, Candide heart-broken once more to be parted from his beloved Cunegonde.

    Cacambo persuades Candide that if they can't fight against the Jesuits they should fight for them. They make their way through the jungle and arrive at the Jesuit camp where Candide is amazed to find that the Father Superior is none other than Maximilian, Cunegonde's brother, who was reported to have been killed in the war but who has had a similarly miraculous escape to his sister. After a fond reunion, Candide explains that he intends to marry Cunegonde. Maximilian is so enraged at the prospect of his sister marrying a bastard commoner that he draws his sword to kill Candide, but Candide runs him through first, and he and Cacambo make their escape once more.

    After yet another narrow escape from a tribe of philosophical cannibals, Candide and Cacambo arrive at an impassable river. A small canoe is moored to the bank. They have no choice but to get into it and drift downstream. The river turns into a raging torrent and speeds the two friends through underground chasms until they are finally spewed out onto the shores of a strange and magical kingdom. - "The Ballad of Eldorado."

    The friends stay for a few months in Eldorado, enjoying the deep philosophical pleasures of a Utopian existence, but Candide's longing to see Cunegonde moves them on. They set off from Eldorado with a vast quantity of gold and precious stones loaded onto a hundred sheep, but by the time they arrive in Surinam, all but two of the sheep have been lost in a variety of disastrous accidents. In Surinam they decide to part: it being too dangerous for Candide to return to Montevideo, Cacambo will take half their fortune and go there alone to find Cunegonde and the Old Woman while Candide will sail to Venice with the rest of the treasure. There they will meet - in the free Venetian state where they can live in peace and security. But within minutes of being parted from his trusty friend, Candide is in trouble again. A malicious local merchant and pirate called Vanderdendur cheats Candide out of his fortune and sails away leaving him to sink in a leaky little boat - "Bon Voyage."

    Candide swims ashore and decides that there must be something wrong with him as well as the world - "It Must Be Me." In the depths of despair he advertises for a companion but insists that he will only employ the unhappiest and most unfortunate person in the whole colony of Surinam. Without even applying for it, a miserable old road-sweeper called Martin gets the job - "Words Words Words." Candide and Martin set sail for Venice. On the way they witness the sinking of Vanderdendur's ship and Candide manages to save a large part of his fortune from the wreckage. Martin turns out to be the most pessimistic man Candide has ever met - the perfect antidote to the meaningless optimism of his old master Pangloss. The two men change boats at Marseilles, boarding a Tunisian galley bound for Venice, and wonder of wonders - who should be rowing in the galley, chained side by side, but Pangloss and Maximilian. They have both had miraculous escapes from being hanged and stabbed respectively, and both have fallen foul of the Tunisian authorities for sexual misdemeanours and wound up on the same punishment ship. Candide, Martin, Maximilian and Pangloss arrive in Venice - "Money, Money, Money." Candide rents a small palazzo on the Grand Canal. Pangloss and Maximilian take to the life at once, spending vast quantities of Candide's money in the casinos. Martin and Candide spend their days looking for Cunegonde, who should have arrived from Montevideo with Cacambo. Cunegonde is nowhere to be found but they do meet up with Paquette, the chamber-maid from the Baron's castle, who tells them her story - another woeful tale of disease, prostitution and degradation. Then one night Candide and Martin find Cacambo. He has been imprisoned by monks on the cemetery island of San Michelle and forced to work as a grave-digger. He has lost all his half of the treasure and has become separated from Cunegonde and the Old Woman after arriving in Venice with them. But he has remained faithful to Candide, thus proving that honesty exists and that Martin's universal pessimism is no more justified than Pangloss's optimism.

    The next night is the Carnival Ball at the Doge's palace. Candide, Cacambo and Martin put on masks and go the ball, sure that they will find Cunegonde there. At the ball, Candide is pursued all evening by a pair of rapacious women, also masked, who try to fleece him out of his money - "The Venice Gavotte." Pangloss arrives from the casino with a whole gaggle of whores and hangers-on just as Candide starts to lose his patience and give up the search for Cunegonde. Suddenly he realizes who the masked women are. He rips off one of their masks to reveal - Cunegonde! The other figure unmasks, revealing herself to be the Old Woman. Candide is devastated by the terrible change in Cunegonde - "Nothing More Than This" - while Cunegonde herself is utterly humiliated.

    Weeks go by and all is misery in Candide's palazzo. Candide himself is silent and distant, refusing to talk to Cunegonde or to anyone else. The rest of the 'family' - Cacambo, Paquette, the Old Woman, Maximilian and Pangloss are all stuck in their own personal miseries, only Martin attempting to cajole them out of their self-centred woe - "What's The Use."

    Candide's silence remains unbroken. Then one night he is walking through the dark alleyways of Venice when he sees six figures in the mist, all crowned. They get into a gondola and float down the Grand Canal towards the lagoon. As Candide follows from the shore he hears them discussing the temporary nature of power and their decision to return to a more natural way of life – "The Kings' Barcarolle." This is the inspiration that Candide was looking for. He returns to the palazzo at dawn and tells his 'family' that he is moving to the mountains. They can go or stay as they please but the money stays with him. He also informs Maximilian that he intends to marry Cunegonde. Despite everything Candide has done for him, Maximilian is still hysterically and snobbishly opposed to the marriage but is powerless to prevent it.

    Of course the whole household agrees to go with Candide. They all walk for days until they arrive at a little valley high in the mountains. Here, Candide tells them, they will live, but they must all work. It is only work that will keep them all sane and healthy. They all agree but Pangloss and Martin start to argue as to whether this is a pessimistic or optimistic outcome. Candide interrupts them with a repeat of the chorale from the first scene – "Universal Good" - everyone joining in - an agreement to rid their lives of pointless theologies and philosophies.

    Candide and Cunegonde pledge themselves to each other and to the growing of their garden. At the and of all their terrible misfortunes and arduous travels, after a lifetime of thinking and wondering and hoping, all they can say is that they should live in peace, work hard, not hurt anyone else and make their garden grow. Their friends agree - "Make Our Garden Grow."

    Casting Information

    Large (over 20)
    Ensemble Cast - Many featured roles, Older Role(s), Showcases trained singers, Star Vehicle - Female, Strong/Large Chorus
    This version of CANDIDE can be played by as few as 20 performers. If greater forces are used, then less doubling of roles is necessary. One can easily imagine a cast as large as 30 or even 40.

    Because of the extraordinary speed of the story and the ironical tone of the text, it is possible to cast CANDIDE with an unusual degree of imagination and flair with regard to age and gender, but never so much that the characters become ridiculous. The casting must always support the basic seriousness of the story.

    Character Breakdown

    CACAMBO Candide’s faithful and utterly devoted servant. A friend with a wealth of practical knowledge to share.
    Male, 25-45 yrs old
    Range: C4 - F5

    CANDIDE A naïve and trusting youth, who blindly follows the teachings of his teacher. Cunegonde's lover and nephew to the Baron and Baroness.
    Male, 20-30 yrs old
    Range: A3 - C6

    CUNEGONDE A blonde beauty and Candide’s love interest. Faithful, strong, and attractive.
    Female, 18-25 yrs old
    Range: A3 - E6


    MARTIN Martin is Voltaire’s antidote to Pangloss. Martin must communicate a lifetime of disappointment and a skepticism born of observing the worst traits in human nature.
    Male, 40-60 yrs old
    Range: A2 - A5

    MAXIMILLIAN Cunegonde’s brother. A young, handsome aristocrat whose looks are only matched by his vanity.
    Male, 20-25 yrs old
    Range: A2 - G4

    OLD WOMAN The illegitimate daughter of a Pope and a Princess and the subsequent victim of an extraordinary
    sequence of dramatic misfortunes. She is witty, dry, and pessimistic.
    Female, 60-75 yrs old
    Range: G3 - A5

    PAQUETTE A sexy but good-hearted maid who does her best to help reunite Candide with Cunegonde.
    Female, 18-25 yrs old
    Range: A3 - A5

    VANDERDENUR A villainous pirate who makes off with all of Candide’s treasure. He is the very archetype of vicious colonial oppression.
    Male, 35-50 yrs old
    Range: C4 - B5

    VOLTAIRE / PANGLOSS / GOVERNOR Voltaire: quick, sharp, and mischievous. He is the narrator and driver of the story. Pangloss: the self-opinionated, pompous, optimistic philosopher whose ideas lead Candide horribly astray. The Governor: a smooth, romantic seducer.
    Male, 40-60 yrs old
    Range: F2 - B5

    Production Material


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