A can-do cast delights in Carnegie Hall’s “Candide”

Thu Apr 19, 2018 at 12:58 pm
Patricia Racette, Paul Appleby, and Erin Morley with Ryan Silverman (standing) in Leonard Bernstein's "Candide" Wednesday night at Carnegie Hall. Photo: Chris Lee

Patricia Racette, Paul Appleby, and Erin Morley with Ryan Silverman (standing) in Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide” Wednesday night at Carnegie Hall. Photo: Chris Lee

Leonard Bernstein’s Candide is a show so fast-paced, so filled with bawdy comedy, a concert performance of it merits a little skepticism. The one-night-only showing put together at Carnegie Hall Wednesday night, one of many Bernstein centennial events this year, defied any such doubts with an energetic presentation of this madcap operetta.

Granted, Wednesday’s performance wasn’t totally unstaged. Voltaire’s wacky satirical tale follows the title bright-faced naif who endures hilarious torments as he pursues his beloved through every corner of the known world; material that bizarre is too good to pass up, and director Gary Griffin sets the fanciful scene with bright costumes by Tracy Christensen and clever choreography by Joshua Bergasse. Most of the narrative work of the staging falls to the projections designed by Wendall K. Harrington, whose Gilliam-esque moving cutouts have cheerful fun with their own “budget” aesthetic.

Most of the credit for Wednesday’s success, though, goes to the performers. If not the Best of All Possible Casts, the one assembled for this performance is at least difficult to top.

Paul Appleby was ideal as the poor sap of the title, bringing a clear, pliant tenor and simple, breathing phrases to his music. Though he’s the butt of much of the piece’s humor, Candide has to be sweet and earnest in his foolishness for the jokes to land. Appleby managed the perfect balance: in his sorrowful monologues, such as the early “It Must Be So,” he gives the music just as much pathos as it can bear, and not a touch more.

Erin Morley is in a class of her own among coloratura sopranos, singing even the most dazzlingly difficult material with beauty and musical sense. The role of Cunegonde is a little shallow for Morley’s dramatic talents, but she made the most of it, batting her eyes at anything that sparkled. The aria “Glitter and Be Gay” brought the show to a halt, as it should—she reveled in her warm-toned middle voice, milking the lament for all it was worth before vaulting through the sparkling coloratura with blinding brilliance.

At the Met we usually only get to see Patricia Racette in big dramatic roles, so to see her strut her comic chops as the one-buttocked Old Lady was a rare treat. With her plush tone, luscious phrasing, and sultry antics, “I Am Easily Assimilated” was a comedic coup.

William Burden brought a strong, belting tenor, playing the governor of Buenos Aires as a mustachioed latin lover. Byronha Marie Parham showed a powerful, sinewy voice as Paquette, and Ryan Silverman, filling a number of smaller roles, was at his best as the slimy prefect in the casino scene.

The evening’s star power came in the person of John Lithgow, appearing in the double role of Voltaire and Dr. Pangloss. The weak number “Dear Boy” was retained as his one vocal solo, but the real value he brought to the performance was the wry understatement of his narration. At one point, continuing to set the scene as he prepared to slip back into the role of Pangloss, he daubed on his makeup with a ho-hum false modesty, sending up the weary Broadway veteran who goes about his profession with deadly seriousness.

In an absurd bit of luxury casting, Danny Burstein and Len Cariou stood in for the bit parts of the Jew and the Archbishop. The two hammed up their back-to-back comic deaths, but it was legendary mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne who won the crown for Most Random Cameo with her speaking-only appearance as the Queen of Eldorado.

The Mansfield University Concert Choir sang with almost forceful brightness, and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s was in terrific voice under the baton of Rob Fisher. None of the music was done halfway in Wednesday’s performance—every gesture was played for maximum effect, whether slapstick comedy or sappy sentiment. It was almost comical to hear Bernstein’s loopy score played with such precision and power.

2 Responses to “A can-do cast delights in Carnegie Hall’s “Candide””

  1. Posted Apr 19, 2018 at 2:36 pm by Maria Rial

    I must have seen presentations of Candide between 8 and 10 times. Anytime it is presented in New York I run to see it. Last night’s performance at Carnegie Hall was the best performance of any Candide I have attended. The acting, the vocals ,the staging and the orchestra left me overwhelmed. The performers were uniformally brilliant. What a fantastic evening I had.

  2. Posted Apr 23, 2018 at 12:56 am by meche kroop

    Eric, I love your writing. I agree totally. But no one mentioned how spotty the amplification was and how much of the clever lyrics was missed. I spoke to a few audience members who noticed that.

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