The Best 

... of all possible adaptations

3/25-4/3

Voltaire's 1759 novel Candide is a masterpiece of philosophical satire, chronicling the attempts of its titular hero to accentuate the positive while undergoing all imaginable calamity and debasement. Leonard Bernstein's musical adaptation has followed a path nearly as bumpy and meandering as that of its happy-go-unlucky protagonist. Bernstein's score is simply magnificent, full of satirical winks to operatic tropes such as an insane display of coloratura excess in "Glitter and Be Gay." So why isn't it performed more often? The trouble with Candide has always been the book, as is achingly clear if you go back to Lillian Hellman's clunky and confusing original text for its 1956 Broadway debut, which nobody bothers to do anymore. Hugh Wheeler's clever rewrite from Harold Prince's 1973 revival immediately supplanted Hellman's book, and the original production's lyrics by Richard Wilbur (with contributions from John LaTouche and Dorothy Parker) were punched up by Stephen Sondheim for this one-act "Chelsea version." Prince, Wheeler, and musical director John Mauceri added scenes and restored much of the original music (in new places) for the full-length 1982 "Opera House" version.

Bernstein himself took a hand in rearranging the score for Jonathan Miller's "final revised version" that debuted at the Scottish Opera in 1988, further tweaked by John Wells to restore some of the pathos in a script that some felt had swung too far from Hellman's didacticism into vaudevillian goofiness. Others found Miller's more operatic permutation a bit stodgy, and the Opera House version remained popular. A 1997 Broadway hodgepodge of previous versions added new Sondheim lyrics to beef up the lively supporting role of the Old Lady as a star vehicle for Andrea Martin.

In 1999, London's Royal National Theatre unveiled yet another adaptation by director John Caird, who substantially revamped Hugh Wheeler's book to make it more faithful to Voltaire's original, reshuffled the songs again to make them flow more organically from the action, and persuaded both Wilbur and Sondheim to make additional lyrical tweaks. Is this finally the best of all possible Candides? We'll get a chance to find out when Lamplighters present this version's West Coast premiere in a flurry of one-night-stand concert performances, Friday at Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, Saturday at SF's Herbst Theatre, Tuesday at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, and April 2 and 3 at the Napa Valley Opera House. Details at Lamplighters.orgSam Hurwitt

3/24-4/18

Pining Car

Detachment Express on Track 1

It's a story about strangers on a train, but not the one you're thinking of. Yasmina Reza's West End smash, The Unexpected Man, is choo-choo-choosing Lafayette's Town Hall Theatre as its next stop. The set-up is simple: A celebrated author and his ardent admirer end up riding side by side. But it's the exposition that makes Reza's story intriguing -- the audience gets to know the pair through monologues, and they interact, very briefly, only at play's end. Tickets $12-$23; for more info, visit THTC.org or call 925-283-1557. – Stefanie Kalem

3/24-4/2

Mediums, Well ...

For André Breton and his otherworldly brethren, the medium was the messenger. "We ... who have not given ourselves to processes of filtering," the Surrealist Manifesto reads, "who through the medium of our work have been content to be the silent receptacles of so many echoes ... we are perhaps serving a yet much nobler cause." Witold Wolfe, T. Flournoy, and Eleanor Peplam explore their mediums-at-large this weekend and next in Enter the Mediums: The Following Episodes , an improvisational theater performance at Woody Woodman's Finger Palace, 903 Cedar St., Berkeley. There's a preview Thursday, and proper performances this and next Friday and Saturday, all at 8:30 p.m. $25-$27.50. For more details, call 510-528-1023. -- Stefanie Kalem

FRI 3/25

Ultra-Bolero-Istic

"Not a single state of the heart exists that has not been captured by the bolero." This extravagant claim is made on behalf of a musical dance show Friday evening at La Peña, La Gloria Eres Tu . Instead of wasting time trying to come up with some weird emotion that the ancient Spanish dance form cannot evoke, why not simply surrender to the bolero, as performed by Jose Roberto Hernandez and his troupe? It's good for the soul. 3105 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. $12 advance, $15 door. -- Kelly Vance

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