Cadogan Hall, London – until 21 July 2017
Guest reviewer: Rhys Scrivener
Candide opened on Broadway in 1956 and despite numerous revivals has never gained the recognition it deserves due to the underlying confusion – Comic Opera or Musical. The reluctance of Candide to slip gracefully into obscurity is down to the magnificent Leonard Bernstein score. He believed it was his best ever score. I believe it is not just Bernstein’s best score but one of the all time greats.
The story revolves around the central premise “That everything happens for the best, in this, the best of all possible worlds”. Candide dreams of the simple life while his love Cunegonde dreams of the high life.
After a quick fondle Candide is exiled and Cunegonde is stabbed and so starts the comic adventure. Syphillis, a volcano, the Spanish Inquisition, resurrection and a duel are just the beginning. Throw into the mix more death, hanging, slavery, prostitution, forced marriage, golden sheep and in one version a shark and you can begin to understand that numerous lyricists are credited for the libretto including none other than Stephen Sondheim himself (who I am convinced came up with the shark idea).
Freddie Tapner the principal conductor and founder of LMTO took charge of the brilliant orchestra from the off with the cracking overture. Only on a few brief occasions throughout the evening did the orchestra, choir and soloists momentarily get away from him and at times they sounded as good as the iconic New York Philharmonic under the control of Bernstein himself.
Showing us his comic genius was James Dreyfus when explaining the rather complex plot as the narrator and his song as Pangloss was outstanding. His cameo role as Martin singing Words, Words, Words was sublime demonstrating a brilliant collaboration and timing with the orchestra.
Rob Houchen of Les Mis Marius fame did a truly admirable job at delivering various songs proving he is one of the best musical theatre tenors of the moment. Candide’s Lament was a particular favourite proving that the casting was spot on by Anne Vosser and that casting a Wagnerian tenor would have missed the point of the original score. Stewart Clarke is destined to be another true musical theatre star singing brilliantly throughout. Louise Gold a musicals veteran delivered some brilliant comic moments including I am Assimilated but at times when she ventured towards the operatic form I felt she was a little out of her depth. In contrast Michael Matus tackled numerous roles throughout the show to great comic effect seamlessly switching between the musical to opera.
The superb LMTO chorus delivered a wide range of musical styles effortlessly and their soft close harmonies were simply heavenly.
Despite a stage brimming with talent the night belonged to Anna O’Byrne. Having played among others the role of Christine in The Phantom of the Opera everyone knew she could sing and you could feel the anticipation in the audience before her Glitter and Be Gay number. What no one was expecting was the performance she delivered with unbelievable ease. Incredible! The mix of comedy, musical theatre and the pure stratospheric operatic mastery resulted in a performance that I will never forget. If you ever get the chance to hear her sing this song grab it with both hands.
The problem that has dogged this show from the start was obvious to all – opera or musical. However, after tonight’s brilliant comic operatic musical performance the concert setting is in my opinion the perfect fit for Candide.