Multi award-winning National Theatre stalwart Alex Jennings (pictured), who won an Olivier when he made his musical stage debut in My Fair Lady 2002, will make his operatic debut this summer in English National Opera’s new version of Candide which runs at the London Coliseum for 13 performances only from 23 June 2008.

Jennings will play Voltaire and Doctor Pangloss, exponent of the philosophy that “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”, in a cast that also features, as previously reported (See News, 2 Jan 2007), British tenor Toby Spence as Candide and Tony Award-winning Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth as Cunegonde.

Jennings is currently at the National starring as Garry Essendine in Present Laughter, which finishes its run in the NT Lyttelton on 24 January. His other myriad NT credits include The Alchemist, Stuff Happens, His Girl Friday, The Relapse and Albert Speer, as well as Henry Higgins in the NT’s production of My Fair Lady in the West End. On screen, Jennings’ credits include The Queen, Babel, A Very Social Secretary and Cranford.

Candide tells the story of a young man determined to follow his instructor's creed of mindless optimism. Even after being banished from his homeland, captured by Bulgarians, beaten by the Spanish Inquisition, robbed of everything he owns, and torn repeatedly from the woman he loves, Candide still clings to the Panglossian belief that everything is for the best in this, "the best of all possible worlds".

Based on Voltaire's novel, the musical has music by Leonard Bernstein, and a book which was originally adapted by Hugh Wheeler, then adapted again by Robert Carsden and Ian Burton. The lyrics are by Richard Wilbur with additional lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, John Latouche, Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker and Bernstein. Candide premiered on Broadway in 1956 at the Martin Beck Theatre, starring Barbara Cook. It was last seen on the London stage in 1999 National Theatre production, with Daniel Evans in the title role.

Director Robert Carsen, who is responsible for the new politically charged adaptation of Candide, has already presented the co-production at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris back in 2006 and at La Scala in Milan last year. La Scala initially cancelled the run of the piece because it was reportedly not "in line with artistic programming", some suggesting that a caricature of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in it being too controversial. After changes were made, the production was reinstated at La Scala where it ran last summer with a different cast.

Candide is choreographed by Rob Ashford, a Whatsonstage.com Award nominee for Parade at the Donmar Warehouse, who is also making his ENO debut. It’s designed by Michael Levine, with costumes by Buki Shiff and lighting by Robert Carsen and Peter Van Praet. Rumon Gamba conducts.

- by Terri Paddock