The piece was originally conceived by playwright Lillian Hellman as a straight play with incidental music, but Bernstein convinced her to take it on as a full operatic event. Though Hellman contributed the original book, Hugh Wheeler's 1974 revision - considered to be truer to Voltaire's 1759 source material - is most frequently utilized these days. John La Touche was chosen as the original lyricist, however Candide has perpetually been a collaborative "work in progress," with material ultimately provided by such talents as James Agee, Dorothy Parker, Stephen Sondheim, Hershy Kay, John Mauceri and Maurice Peress.
Humorist Parker famously pinned the show's initial struggles to the fact that there were "too many geniuses involved." It would undergo over a dozen rewrites over the years.
Candide has since been produced three times on Broadway. The original 1956 production at the Martin Beck Theatre starred Robert Rounseville in the title role and a young Barbara Cook as Cunegonde. It was subsequently revived on the Great White Way in ever-evolving incarnations in 1974 and 1997. One of the more popular recent productions took place in the form of a semi-staged concert at the New York Philharmonic in 2004, featuring Broadway luminaries Kristin Chenoweth as Cunegonde and Patti LuPone as the Old Lady.
Re-staged here by Arthur Masella, the famous operetta sung in English with English supertitles features a starry cast comprised of notable Broadway and screen names, as well as respected opera figures.
Daniel Reichard, who created the role of Bob Gaudio as an original member of Broadway's Jersey Boys, portrays the iconic ever-optimistic protagonist at all 14 performances. Joining him from the theatre world are Richard Kind and Judith Blazer as Dr. Pangloss and The Old Lady, respectively.
Kind is known for his role on television's hit series "Spin City," as well as for his star turn in The Producers on Broadway. Blazer was last seen on the NYCO stage as the Beggar Woman in the 2004 Sweeney Todd. Her numerous Broadway credits include LoveMusik, Neil Simon's 45 Seconds from Broadway, Titanic and Me and My Girl.
Sharing the role of Cunegonde are Lauren Worsham (alumnus of the Yale College Opera Company, recently seen in the national tour of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) and Lielle Berman, whose operatic credits include Tytania in Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor with the Pittsburgh Opera Center and the Queen of the Night in Die Zauberfl‹te with Lyric Opera Center at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
The cast also features Jessica Wright (Paquette), Kyle Pfortmiller (Maximillian), Christopher Jackson, Peter Samuel, Robert Ousley, Eric Michael Gillett, William Ledbetter and John Paul Almon. George Manahan conducts the orchestra.
Candide runs through April 20 at the New York State Theater.
For more information and tickets visit www.nycopera.com
Read more about the tumultuous creation of Candide in Olivia Giovetti's Playbill Feature Article, Oh, Happy We!.
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All photos by Carol Rosegg for New York City Opera.