Lauren Worsham, Daniel Reichard,
Jessica Wright and Richard Kind
in Candide
(© Carol Rosegg)
Lauren Worsham, Daniel Reichard,
Jessica Wright and Richard Kind
in Candide
(© Carol Rosegg)
In a small-scale 1973 version of the musical Candide, first presented at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (before transferring to Broadway the following year), Harold Prince at last made sense of a musical previously considered an honorable 1956 Broadway failure, despite its ravishing and wittily derivative score by Leonard Bernstein. Using a new book by Hugh Wheeler (replacing Lillian Hellman's original) and the work of a variety of obliging lyricists, including Richard Wilbur, John Latouche, and even Stephen Sondheim, the show came to glorious life. But in 1982, Prince apparently decided it was time for him to make nonsense of the oddly-fated adaptation of Voltaire's satiric novel by creating a vastly overblown treatment of Candide for New York City Opera, where it has been a frequent presence in the repertoire -- and was even recreated at Broadway's Gershwin Theatre in 1997.

Designed by Clarke Dunham to resemble a carnival midway -- and with a huge cast of players dressed likewise by Judith Dolan -- this Candide often feels like a too-sprawling and sometimes endless show. Luckily, this spring's production at City Opera, directed with careful finish by longtime Prince associate Arthur Masella, is in about the best shape one can hope for, due in large part to the smart and ebullient cast, many of whom are making their City Opera debuts.

Leading them in the title role is Daniel Reichard, looking far more fresh-faced and innocent than he was in Jersey Boys these past couple of seasons. Not only is he singing in a pure, silvery tenor, but he's getting all the humor from a role often undermined by the excessive production values. He's gleefully intrepid even when he has to sing the mournful "It Must Be So" while journeying through an orchestra row with patrons staring up at him.

As both Voltaire and as Dr. Pangloss, the over-optimistic philosopher whom Voltaire was satirizing, Richard Kind has a Broadway baritone rather than an opera house variety. But it makes no matter once he applies his comic talents to the double and actually sextuple parts he switches into and out of so often that occasionally his wigs and facial hair-pieces have to be delivered to him on stage. Lauren Worsham, as virginal sex-pot Cunegonde, knows how to be goofily amusing. Her expertise is most apparent in the coloratura "Glitter and Be Gay," where she dispenses some startling high E flats and makes the most of the jewelry-donning stage business Prince concocted 35 years ago.

Well-earned nods also go to first-timer Jessica Wright as the sex-pottier Paquette and to Kyle Pfortmiller for throwing himself whole-hearted into silly Maximilian, who at one point pretends to be a buxom courtesan. Threatening to upstage all of the principals are Eric Michael Gillett and Robert Ousley in a series of hilarious cameo appearances. As Don Issachar, one of Cunegonde's most fervent ravishers, Gillett does a priceless send-up of bad actors taking on Shylock.

Judy Blazer, far too young to play the bent-over Old Lady, nevertheless plays her with aplomb. She even tangos in choreographer Patricia Birch's "I'm Easily Assimilated" number, which features a chorus line of grey-bearded old Dons and is genuinely ingenious. Hail to Birch as well for the shadow dance she's dreamed up for the waltzy "What's the Use?" She literally has ladies tossed about as if they're stuffed dummies. No, wait, they are stuffed dummies.

As for the many additional City Opera players -- some of whom occasionally step into other brief roles -- their constant presence is justified only in the final moments, when Candide and pals decide work is the only solution of life's puzzle and everyone joins in singing the moving "Make Our Garden Grow."

While a truly definitive Candide will likely never materialize -- past favorites like "Pangloss' Song" about the syphilis daisy-chain and "The Venice Gavotte" do not exist in the Prince version -- Candide lovers have learned to be grateful for whatever they get. At least this month, the getting is pretty good.