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A little optimism goes a long way at San Juan Hills

From Westphalia to Buenos Aires, from Suriname to El Dorado -- how far is too far for true love?

San Juan Hills' "Candide" caricatures Voltaire's 18th-century satire into a delightful romp through a seven-country, multiple continent expedition, alive with a jaunty cast of wacky individuals, and brimming with a slew of side-splitting pop culture references.

When young Candide falls for the heavenly Cunegonde, he must embark on a journey of philosophy, danger, and several escapes from death to win her back, while his perspective on life changes".

Candide (Benjamin Rutkowski) stands steadfast in the face of ridiculous rivals like Don Fernando and vicious villains like the Grant Inquisitor. Maturing with each murder committed, his boyish gaze of wide-eyed innocence develops into a hardened resolve to defend and find his true love.

Meanwhile, beloved Cunegonde (Aimee Savran) swoons and sighs with ample melodramatics, juxtaposing Candide's calm qualities with her sultry personality. Candide's loveable sidekick, Cacambo (Mikayla Gerlach), also tags along on the adventure, never ceasing to elicit laughs while grazing nonchalantly on an assortment of snacks.

Heinrich (Grant Dossey) frivolously flaunts his ludicrous character, his German accent unfaltering as every word he utters is met with appreciative chuckles. Similarly, the Old Woman With No Name and Only One Buttock (Makenna Johnson) dramatically lumbers on stage, slow as molasses, and uses audience interaction to invasive proportions as she sits on an audience member's lap, her Jersey accent echoing while she jabbers away.

But it's the sheep that steal the show with their diva head shakes and sassy hip sways, providing a feisty familiarity as Candide transitions across the globe.

Lighting (Reese Ravner) astounds with its spot-on timing and dazzling effect on the signs hanging above the performance, illuminating each location in Candide's quest, while the cast provides the humorous effect of "oohs" and "ahhs." The simple set (Hannah Benton) of a creative slideshow and a smooth ocean floor also contrasts the extravagance of the production perfectly.

"Candide's" cast of distinct, hilarious characters flawlessly delivers this comedy. With a spot-on crew and infectious energy, San Juan Hills wows in this modern tale of a classic hero's journey, proving that there's no distance too far for true love, and a little optimism can truly go a long way.

Gwen Thomas is a senior at SOCSA Dana Hills High School in Dana Point.

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