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The best of all possible musicals? November 1, 2006

Posted by Jeff in English, Musicals, Opera, Theater.

On September 26, 1957, the biggest hit of Leonard Bernstein’s career opened on Broadway: West Side Story. Just nine months earlier, Candide had opened to a disappointing seventy-three-performance run. Who would have guessed that almost fifty years later, Candide would be performed more often in theaters and opera houses than West Side Story?

Almost everyone involved blamed Lillian Hellman’s book for the disappointing first run (except Hellman, who blamed everyone else, especially Bernstein.) Certainly the original cast album is wonderful, especially Barbara Cook who (sorry, Kristin) has never been bettered as Cunegonde.

I can’t think of many contemporary theater pieces that exist in so many different versions, none of which are convincingly “authentic” to the original. This website has put a lot of scholarship into trying to sort them all out. I’d like to see someone stage the original Hellman book, just to prove it’s really not as bad as generations have been led to believe.

Here is just about the only part of Candide that hasn’t changed multiple times. From 2005, Sir Simon Rattle conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in the overture:

“The Best Of All Possible Worlds” is performed with Sir Thomas Allen as Pangloss, Paul Groves as Candide, Kristin Chenoweth as Cunegonde, Jeff Blumenkrantz as Maximilian and Janine LaMamma as Paquette, with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Marin Alsop and two choirs: the Westminster Symphonic Choir (blue shirts) and the Juilliard Undergraduate Workshop Choir (gold shirts):

Kristen Chenoweth is a bit over-the-top, but I guess you cant be subtle doing “Glitter and Be Gay”:

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1. francis s. - January 31, 2007

Damn – I was hoping to see Kristin Chenoweth singing “Glitter and Be Gay,” but the video is not longer available… I’ve been looking for it on Youtube, but only found what seems to be a Central Park consert version.

I’d say she comes pretty damn close to Barbara Cook, at least in the recording I heard! But, yes, Barbara Cook cannot be bested…

2. Jeff - February 4, 2007

Ask and you shall receive … the link is fixed. Thanks for letting me know.

And I still vote for Barbara Cook.

3. francis s. - February 5, 2007

Thanks muchly, Jeff. Yer a peach. And yes, Ms. Chenoweth may be a bit broad in her interpretation, but I think the role warrants it, actually. It would’ve been great to see Barbara Cooke do the original, though.

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