You won’t be leaving the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre at Lincoln Center humming any tunes from the new musical “A Minister’s Wife” that has recently opened. Nor will you regret seeing this unique theatrical experience based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Candida”.
However, if you happen to be a Shavian purist you might not appreciate the way Austin Pendleton has whittled away at the story (eliminating the one truly funny character – Candida’s father) into this truncated CliffsNotes version – focusing mainly on Candida (Kate Fry), her husband – The Reverend James Mavor Morell (Marc Kudisch) and the young poet Eugene Marchbanks (Bobby Steggert) who is brought into their household – for better or for worse.
There’s a good reason the creative team – Book by Austin Pendleton, Music by Joshua Schmidt and Lyrics by Jan Levy Tranen have refrained from calling their show “Candida – the musical! It’s simply because it isn’t – and yet it is. It is better described as a chamber opera – with the dialogue sung and spoken – expertly meshed.
There are some waltzes, some dissonance and lots of heated passion and lyricism that takes a while getting used to. And with the show a mere ninety minutes long (this is probably the shortest Shaw show I’ve ever witnessed) by the time you have accepted the rhythms and pace enough to relish the beautiful ending reminiscent of Richard Strauss and Sondheim – “A Minister’s Wife” is over – but leaving you with a lingering admiration of the production as a whole.
For this show to work Candida must be independently beautiful, totally in love with her preacher husband Morell, and radiate charm without being overly flirtatious with Marchbanks. Ms. Fry fills the bill exceedingly well. Morell must be totally in love with her and be charismatic enough for us to believe that women flock to listen to his sermons about socialism not only for their content but because he has sex appeal. Mr. Kudisch succeeds mightily. And Marchbanks must be totally smitten in a truly romantic way with Candida – enough so to challenge her to choose between him and her husband – and duel it out with words with Morell himself – a preaching match between poet and parson. Mr. Steggert is astounding.
Rounding out the quintet is Morell’s dowdy secretary Prossy (Liz Baltes) who must be in love with her boss without overtly seeming so and Morell’s Curate The Reverend Alexander Mill (Drew Gehling) who must remain loyal and precise.
They are a fine example of the perfect ensemble. An ensemble that here has some difficult music to sing, backed up by a quartet of musicians behind a scrim above the beautifully cluttered Victorian study designed by Allen Moyer.
Conceived and unobtrusively directed by Michael Halberstam who breathes passionate life into these characters “A Minister’s Wife” enchants in its own unique way.
www.lct.org Photo: Paul Kolnik
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