Review: LA OPERA’s Surefooted “Candide”

Jack Swanson as Candide, Erin Morley as Cunegonde and Christine Ebersole as the Old Lady in LA Opera's 2018 production of "Candide." (Photo: Ken Howard)

Leonard Bernstein’s Candide opened on Broadway in 1956 and landed with a thud. Many think this might be due to its schizophrenia — is it an opera, an operetta, musical theatre? In LA Opera’s production, directed by Francesco Zambello and conducted by James Conlon, Candide is just in time for Bernstein’s centenary and might finally have a reason to feel optimistic.

Theo Hoffman as Maximilian, Erin Morley as Cunegonde, Jack Swanson as Candide and Peabody Southwell as Paquette in LA Opera’s 2018 production of “Candide.” (Photo: Ken Howard)

Emmy-award winner, Kelsey Grammer makes his opera debut as the French philosopher, Voltaire upon whose 1759 novella the opera is based; he is accompanied by a fine cast including tenor, Jack Swanson (Candide), Tony award-winner Christine Ebersole (Old Lady) and coloratura soprano, Erin Morley (Cunegonde). The story revolves around Candide, a romantic youth who pursues his love interest Cunegonde through an epic journey that takes him to distant lands like El Dorado, and fraught with difficulties, betrayals and even murder — all the while striving to retain the optimism imparted by his tutor, the irrepressible Pangloss (also played by Grammer): the actual world is the best of all possible worlds.

Kelsey Grammer as Voltaire in LA Opera’s 2018 production of “Candide.” (Photo: Ken Howard)

The music blends opera, jazz and Broadway, creating a delightful romp; the costumes by Jennifer Moeller (contrary to the confusing collateral featuring a bow-tied, heart-spectacled-Candide) are appropriately 18th century. As Cunegonde, Morley steals the show with her hilarious, vocally stunning aria, Glitter and Be Gay. Ebersole brings comedic relief and never fails to elicit laughs with her woes about surviving cannibalism with just one spared buttock; and Swanson as the titular Candide is winsome and evocative, especially in the final number, Make Our Garden Grow (Streisand fans look up her unreleased recording of this somewhere on the web).

— Ghalib Dhalla

Candide is playing through February 18th at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Tickets can be purchased here.