Show History



Candide is an operetta with music composed by Leonard Bernstein and primary lyrics by the poet, Richard Wilbur, based on the novella of the same name. The novella, Candide, on which the operetta is based, was written by French author and philosopher, Voltaire. The novella, first published in 1759, is a satire that is now considered one of the great works of Western literature. The operetta itself was originally conceived by Lillian Hellman as a play with incidental music in the style of her previous work, The Lark. The composer, Leonard Bernstein, however, was so excited about this idea that he convinced Hellman to do it as a "comic operetta;" she then wrote the original libretto. Many lyricists worked on the show: first James Agee (whose work was ultimately not used), then Dorothy Parker, John Latouche and Richard Wilbur. In addition, the lyrics to "I Am Easily Assimilated" were done by Leonard and Felicia Bernstein, and Hellman wrote the words to "Eldorado."

Unfortunately, when Candide premiered on Broadway at the Martin Beck Theatre in 1956, it was a disaster. Despite its pedigree, the operetta ran for only two months and 73 performances. Hellman's libretto received the large brunt of the criticism, and Candide soon developed a reputation as a show with a glorious score that was crippled by an unworkable book. So, when Harold Prince began work on a revival of the project in 1974, a new book was first among the things that needed to be addressed. Lillian Hellman refused to let any of her original work be used, so Prince commissioned a new, one-act book from Hugh Wheeler to match Bernstein's lauded score. The show was pared down, half of the musical numbers were cut and Wilbur and Stephen Sondheim contributed new, revised lyrics. Thusly, the 1974 revised, hit version, of Candide, which came to be known as the Chelsea Version for the theatre in which it premiered, was born.


The operetta first premiered on Broadway on December 1, 1956, with a libretto by Lillian Hellman, and became a notorious flop. Eighteen years later, however, in a 1974 revised version commissioned by director, Harold Prince, Candide finally became a hit. With a new libretto by Hugh Wheeler, which more faithfully follows the hilarity and bawdy irreverence of Voltaire's novel, and additional lyrics contributed by Stephen Sondheim and John Latouche, Candide opened at the Chelsea Theater Center in Brooklyn on December 18, 1973. This revised version ran there for seven weeks before transferring to Broadway, where it opened at the Broadway Theatre on March 10, 1974.  In its new form, Candide ran for 740 performances, eventually closing on January 4, 1976. The opening night cast included: Mark Baker (Candide), Maureen Brennan (Cunegonde), Sam Freed (Maximilian), Lewis J. Stadlen (Dr. Pangloss) and June Gable as the Old Lady.

In the revised edition, Candide overcame the unenthusiastic reaction of early audiences and critics, achieving enormous popularity. It has gone on to be very popular among music schools as a student show because of the quality of its music and the opportunities it offers to student singers.

Cultural Influence

  • An original cast album from the 1974 cast of Candide was recorded and given a commercial release.


  • In addition to the Tony Awards it won, Candide (1974) also garnered four performance nominations for members of its cast.
  • In 1999, John Caird adapted and revised Candide again, this time for the Royal National Theatre. His adaptation expands on the one-act 1974 version, adding characters, rearranging scenes and putting back songs that had been lost along the way. Richard Wilbur also contributed new lyrics. This 1999 version is licensed by MTI as well.
  • Although the show itself was not commercially successful at the time, the 1956 cast recording of Candide led critics and musical theatre fans to a new appreciation of the score, which ultimately helped it live on until the 1974 revisions that gave the show a new and lasting breath.
  • The sole element of Hellman's original 1956 Candide libretto that remained was her name (Maximilian) for Cunegonde's brother. (The character has no given name in Voltaire's novella.)