I get great pleasure writing my review of a production when it is a special one. It is not always the case, but I know that when I attend a production of Music Theater Works (formerly Light Opera Works), I am in for a treat. Due to a hectic schedule, I was unable to attend the Opening night festivities at Cahn Hall in Evanston, but was able to sneak into the final “dress” on Friday. There was indeed an audience present- groups bussed in from as far as Milwaukee to witness the show and allow the actors to get reaction to the wonderful direction of Rudy Hogenmiller. The show- Leaonard Bernstein’s “Candide”, with a book by Hugh Wheeler (adapted form Voltaire) and lyrics by Richard Wilbur. There are also some lyrics by Bernstein himself along with Stephen Sondheim (you can tell which are his), Lillian Hellman (yes, THE Lillian Hellman), Dorothy Parker and John Latouche. This list alone is reason to take the trip to Evanston for this brilliant production.

“Candide” is a take on Voltaire’s satire on the human condition, as it deals with forbidden love, the sale of people, The Spanish Inquisition, Anti-Semitism, power struggles, war, love, sex, sex, war, prostitution (both sex and political) and of course a happy ending. The storyline is not as important as the beauty that is put on the stage by Hogenmiller and his staff. Adam Veness has designed a wonderful set (fitting for any major theater company) and the lighting (Andrew H. Meyers) and sound (Aaron Quick) are as perfect as sound and lighting can be. Alexa Weinzieri’s costumes are in one word “amazing”! I doubt that the Lyric could do as well and they have lots of money to work with. In fact, I am always stunned by the wardrobe and technical aspects the “Music Theater Works” (must get used to the new name) has, since they are a small budget company- they spend right, for sure!

Roger L. Bingaman and his orchestra, as always fill the Cahn Hall in Evanston with the sounds that were written by the composer and do so with love. This is not an easy score, but this company “gets it”! The choreography by Clayton Cross is also one more step to the perfection that audiences have learned to expect from this company. Let us talk about the company- The overture is one that is sung rather than played (as most musicals are, BUT to be honest, “Candide” is more of an Opera than a Musical) and at the opening we meet Voltaire (brilliantly played by Gary Alexander, who also portrays Voltaire’s alter-ego Pangloss). He opens a trunk and takes out costumes and props as actors take the stage, picking up their character (thru this piece) and allowing us to meet many of the people who the story will contain. During the first act, we visit Westphalia,Bavaria, Holland, Paris, Vienna, Portugal,Lisbon and Spain. Act two takes us to Montevideo, Paraguay, Eldorado, Surinam, Venice and a valley in the Carnian Mountains (where we do get our happy ending). Despite all the travel, it is the characters that create the magic- not where we are (but who we are watching being there).

The ensemble appears to be a cast of hundreds, but in reality in addition to Mr. Alexander there are 25 players. Our main character is “Candide” (deftly handled by Ben Barker, who has a vocal range that will floor you). He is a “bastard” that is being raised by a wealthy family. He is in love with Cunegonde ( the delightful Cecilia Lole)  and the majority of the story is his  having to leave his home, knowing that it has been destroyed and in search for a life and possibly her love. He is joined by a new friend Cacambo (Raymond Goodall is a delight to watch) and the Old Woman (I fell in love with the delightful Emily Barnash, and so will you) who as it turns out is the greatest of assets.

The other cast members, for the most part, play many roles and are as fast at changing costumes as they are in changing characters. Without this ensemble, there is no way that this production could shine so brightly-Amy Jo Barrett, Tearra Burge, Alex Christ, Katherine Dalin, Billy Dawson, Jordan DeBose, Erik Dohner, Brian Healym Stephen Hobe, Dennis Kalup, Cary Lovett, Johanna Moffitt, Rick Rapp, Rebekah Rawhouser, Russell Alan Rowe, Gabrielle Sarcone, Derek Self and  Abby Murray Vachon- they are terrific!
This is a romp thru history and Bernstein’s music and the lyrics by the amazing writers he assembled to make this happen are outstanding. It is a long production- each act is over an hour-fifteen minutes with a 20 minute intermission, BUT, it moves so quickly, it never feels long. Being at a special viewing where I may have been the youngest audience member ( and I am almost 75), I noticed no one was sleeping and everyone was talking at intermission that they coud not believe that the first act was over an hour. That is a tribute to the writer, the director and the cast!
Now, for the bad news. “Candide” is only around for a few performances, so if you want to see this sterling production, you only have until June 11th (yes, that is correct, June 11) with performances as follows:
Sunday, June 4th  2 p.m.
Wednesday, June 7th  2 p.m.
Fridays  June 9th  8 p.m.
Saturday, June 10th  8 p.m.
Sunday, June 11th at 2 p.m.

The theater is the Cahn Auditorium (on the Northwestern campus) at 600 Emerson Street (at Sheridan Road) after the extension of Chicago Avenue in Evanston.
Tickets range from $34 and children and students (25 and under) are half price
call the box office at 847-920-5360
or www.MusicTheaterWorks.com

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Candide”.
FYI-Parking can be a problem, so I suggest you see the website for location of parking garages on campus that are walking distance from the theater.