CEDAR RAPIDS — “Candide” is a delightful, frothy romp through several continents in a quest to make some sense of life, glittered with lots of nonsense along the way. The Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre showcases a large, stellar cast from its Young Artists Program in Leonard Bernstein’s operetta, which opened to laughter and cheers Friday night (6/17/2011) at Theatre Cedar Rapids. The production continues Sunday at 2 p.m. It’s a magical, mystical show with glorious musical moments and visual punchlines that straddle Monty Python and Mel Brooks movies. The opulent period costumes by Janie Westendorf say late 18th century, but the actions include the macarena line dance (somehow made less annoying here) and a Grant Woodian pose at the greener pastures ending. I’ve explored some of this soul-stirring music in various chorales over the years, but I’ve not seen the show before. Therefore, I don’t know how much of the wacky hijinks are inherent in the script or added by stage director Gerald Dolter from Texas Tech University. I suspect it’s a little of both, but I’ll tip my hat to Dolter and musical director/conductor Daniel Kleinknecht for creating a light and lively summer delight. Dolter directed the show at his school in March, and both productions used the same beautiful scenery, planting the action in a European castle, but letting it move freely to other parts of the world. All 22 cast members, ages 19 to 25, were strong and instantly engaging. This is the perfect kind of show to not only let them hone their operatic chops but also develop their acting skills, since all were called upon to be goofy, yet sympathetic, or sometimes just pathetic. Bernstein based his 1956 show, reworked in 1973, on Voltaire’s novella about a young college student, Candide, three companions, and the follies and foibles they encounter as they search for the best of all possible worlds. They’re imprisoned, enslaved, beaten and killed several times as they cross oceans in search of Eden, only to find the grass is greenest wherever they are, as long as they’re surrounded by the people they love. John Humphrey wraps his rich resonance around the lead role, while Diana Stoic is utterly luminous as the object of his affections, Cunegonde. She glides with ease over the seemingly impossible passages of “Glitter and Be Gay,” one of the musical highlights of the show and one of the most difficult soprano arias in all of operadom. The mark of a good show is when the secondary characters step into the spotlight, let loose and shine. Jason Mallory milks every moment — in the very best way — as the spoiled, vain rich kid Maximilian, who never goes anywhere without his mirror. Michelle Hackman brings down the house with every bump and grind of her padded hips as the Old Lady working her feminine charms in the tango, “I am Easily Assimilated.” The entire company plays to the hilt the blood-lust of “Auto Da Fe (What a Day)” as they salivate over two pending executions at the hand of the Inquisition (cue Monty Python). Of course, their full glory is saved for the end, as they join in the exhilarating “Make Our Garden Grow.” The action is lusty, bawdy, sexy and hilarious. United with the vocals and the Orchestra Iowa musicians under Kleinknecht’s skilled baton, they create the best of all possible worlds.

-- Diana Nollen


  • What: “Candide,” featuring Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre’s Young Artists
  • When: 2 p.m. Sunday, June 19, 2011
  • Where: Theatre Cedar Rapids, 102 Third St. SE
  • Tickets: $30 and $40, Theatre Cedar Rapids Box Office, (319) 366-8591 or www.theatrecr.org
  • Information: www.cr-opera.org