Phil’s 4th Candide, and if he had a better memory he would make comparisons. So a swift read up of the Whingers’ last one (at the ENO) reminded him that, in that case, it was long (3¼ hours), gimmicky and sometimes inaudible.
But that’s what can happen if you let opera companies have their wicked way with it. Thankfully this one is shorter (2 hours 40 mins), the often brilliant lyrics entirely audible and the staging traditional.
Well, one might say traditional if one were not a Whinger. The Menier’s production is off-puttingly staged in the round. But, and swallowing hard, Phil was forced reluctantly to admit that it works. Yes, occasionally there is the discomfort of a little Linda Blair-ish head swivelling to see the performers as they cavort around the auditorium (choreography Adam Cooper), but on the plus side you’re close enough to get a hooped skirt in your face and if seated in the front row may even find yourself becoming part of the show wearing a natty red titfer.
Matthew Whites’s staging (design Paul Farnsworth) seems to have drawn some inspiration from the successful 1973 New York revival (the original 1956 production flopped) which apparently also eschewed the proscenium and romped around all over the place.
Phil came along as a huge fan of the music (Leonard Bernstein), the book (Hugh Wheeler adapted from Voltaire )and the lyrics (Richard Wilbur with contributions from John Latouche, Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman, Stephen Sondheim and Bernstein) and everything is as it should be, lively, clearly sung and a huge amount of fun.
Candide (Fra Fee) is worryingly impregnated with un-Whingerish optimism by his tutor Pangloss (James Dreyfus) learning to view everything through half full glasses whatever disasters happen upon him. On his travels he encounters terrible misfortunes and more exotic global locations than even Phil’s well-thumbed Saga brochures can offer.
And just as any regular theatregoer might often come across one of the prolific Strallen clan so does Candide. Coincidences abound as he keeps bumping into the love of his life Cunegonde (Scarlett Strallen) and Pangloss and hitches up with a mono-buttocked old lady (Jackie Clune).
It’s all hugely silly (in a good way), playful and thoroughly entertaining with one knockout number after another. It may be Phil’s familiarity with the score but his companion for the afternoon was a Candide virgin and she enjoyed it all enormously too. The leads are all well-cast, Strallen delivers a show stopping rendition of “Glitter and Be Gay” and the ensemble harmonise wonderfully, never more so than in the spine-tinglingly, eye-tinglingly moving closing number “Make Our Garden Grow”.
Phil didn’t come away convinced that optimism is necessarily a good thing as he always expects to have something to whinge about. Far better to expect little and be be taken by surprise. But there’s no glasses half empty or half full here.
Time to dust off the Stallometer again.