In the country of Westphalia, Candide is about to be married to the lovely Cunegonde. Dr. Pangloss, Candide's teacher expounds his famous philosophy, to the effect that all is for the best ("The Best of All Possible Worlds") The happy couple sing their marriage duet ("Oh, Happy We"), and the ceremony is about to take place ("Wedding Chorale") when war breaks out between Westphalia and Hesse. Westphalia is destroyed, and Cunegonde is seemingly killed. Candide takes comfort in the Panglossian doctrine ("It Must Be So") and sets out on his journeys.
In the public square of Lisbon ("Lisbon Fair"), the Infant Casmira, a deranged mystic in the caravan of an Arab conjuror, predicts dire happenings ("The Prediction"), leaving the public in terror ("Pray For Us"). Candide discovers Pangloss, who has contracted syphilis, yet remains optimistic ("Dear Boy"*). The Inquisition appears, in the persons of two ancient Inquisitors and their lawyer, and many citizens are tried and sentenced to hang, including Candide and Dr. Pangloss ("The Inquisition: Auto-da-Fé"*). Suddenly an earthquake occurs, killing Dr. Pangloss, and Candide barely escapes.
Candide, faced with the loss of both Cunegonde and Dr. Pangloss, starts out for Paris. He is unable to reconcile Dr. Pangloss's ideas with the bitter events that have occurred, but concludes that the fault must lie within himself, rather than in the philosophy of optimism ("It Must Be Me").
Cunegonde turns up alive in Paris ("The Paris Waltz"), a demi-mondaine in a house shared by a Marquis and a Sultan. A party is in progress. Urged by the Old Lady, who serves as her duenna, Cunegonde arrays herself in her jewels ("Glitter and Be Gay"). Candide stumbles into the scene and is amazed to find Cunegonde still alive ("You Were Dead, You Know"). In a duel, he kills both the Marquis and the Sultan, and flees with Cunegonde, accompanied by the Old Lady.
They fall in with a band of devout Pilgrims on their way to the New World and sail with them ("Pilgrims' Procession" / "Alleluia"). Arriving in Buenos Aires, the group is brought to the Governor's Palace (where Maximilian is alive and working for the Governor), where all except Cunegonde and the Old Lady are immediately enslaved. A street cleaner appears in the person of the pessimistic Martin, warning Candide of the future. Candide and Maximilian are joyfully reunited, but when Candide states his intention to marry Cunegonde Maximilian starts to strike him with a glove. Candide starts to strike him back, but before he actually does Maximilian drops, apparently dead. The Governor serenades Cunegonde ("My Love") and she, abetted by the Old Lady, agrees to live in the palace ("I Am Easily Assimilated"). The Old Lady urges Candide to flee, but Candide, fired by reports of Eldorado from Martin, sets off to seek his fortune, planning to return for Cunegonde later ("Quartet Finale").
In the heat of Buenos Aires, Cunegonde, the Old Lady and the Governor display their fraying nerves ("Quiet"), and the Governor resolves to get rid of the tiresome ladies. Candide returns from Eldorado ("Eldorado"), his pockets full of gold and searches for Cunegonde. The Governor, however, has had both Cunegonde and the Old Lady tied up in sacks and carried to a boat in the harbor. He tells Candide that the women have sailed for Europe, and Candide eagerly purchases a leaky ship from the Governor and dashes off. As the Governor and his suite watch from his terrace, the ship with Candide and Martin casts off and almost immediately sinks ("Bon Voyage").
Candide and Martin have been rescued from the ship, and are floating about the ocean on a raft. Martin is devoured by a shark, but Dr. Pangloss miraculously reappears. Candide is overjoyed to find his old teacher, and Pangloss sets about repairing the damage done to his philosophy by Candide's experiences.
In a luxurious palazzo of Venice ("Money, Money, Money"), Cunegonde turns up as a scrubwoman and the Old Lady as a woman of fashion (Madame Sofronia) ("What's the Use?"), both working as shills for Ferone, the owner of a gambling hall. Candide and Dr. Pangloss, both wearing masks, appear and are caught up by the merriment, the wine and the gambling. Candide is accosted by a masked Cunegonde and Old Lady, who try to steal his remaining gold ("The Venice Gavotte"), but recognizes Cunegonde when her mask falls off. His last hopes and dreams shattered, he drops his money at her feet and leaves. Cunegonde and the Old Lady are fired by Ferone and Pangloss is now penniless, having been completely swindled out of all his money.
With Candide now completely disillusioned, he and Pangloss return to the ruined Westphalia. Cunegonde, Maximilian (minus his teeth) and the Old Lady appear and within them a spark of optimism still flickers. Candide, however, has had enough of the foolish Panglossian ideal and tells them all that the only way to live is to try to make some sense of life ("Make Our Garden Grow").