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Candide in wouldjabelieve Brooklyn blends musical genius and comic brilliance into a magnificent magnum opus.


By Myra Chanin


One might well ask, what were Alvin, that long-suffering grouch, and I, his devoted, dutiful, always merry and bright helpmate doing, leaping onto four different subway trains to get to St. Charles Borromeo’s Church in Brooklyn Heights during the height of the polar vortex?  We were determined to attend Theater2020’s latest main stage event – the restaging of Harold Prince’s 1974 version of Leonard Bernstein’s melody and laughter filled satirical opera, Candide. Performing such a sorta anti-faith opus in a classic neo-Gothic, flying buttressed, absolution-awarding venue might strike some as chutzpah, but Theater2020’s stellar cast will quickly restore even an atheist’s faith in the future of art.

Getting to the church on time was a bit of a hurdle. The culprit responsible for the height of the hurdle was I. I insisted we adhere to’s Friday morning route, which, because of the MTA weekend repair schedule, was not in service on Sunday afternoon. Fortunately, two cultured gentlemen seated near us on the 5 train were attending the same play, overheard our wrangling, and resolved our dispute tout suite. For the first time in many decades of married life, wouldjabelieve that I was wrong! And with witnesses around as proof! Alvin quickly snapped a selfie with them to post on Facebook before we followed their lead to the 4 Train’s Borough Hall stop, where we followed the wrong point of the compass, took a scenic tour of the neighborhood and by the time we finally stumbled into St. Chuck’s, our traveling companions had been seated for 20 minutes wondering what had happened to us.

Any longtime aficionados of Theater 2020’s Co-Artistic Directors, Judith Jarosz and David Fuller – the multi-award-winning producing, directing and choreographing wunder-duo formerly at Manhattan’s late, lamented, Theater 1010 – are cognizant of their historical affinity for performing in churches. Fuller’s classic but contemporary interpretation of Candide juxtaposes optimism and pragmatism into a delightful episodic and picaresque production, which blends guerilla and street theater with a morality play, and brings haut t culture to the borough now best known for haut cuisine.

The interior of St. Charles Borromeo is beautiful and serene. Its spotless marble sanctuary, crowned by dazzling, huge, bright, colorful, stained glass windows depicting scenes in the life of Jesus, also serves as the stage, with a translucent gauze curtain veiling the alter. The acoustics are grand. The score is glorious.  The cast is the crème de la crème of the 1000 performers who auditioned for these roles. Sets are minimal, just a moveable wooden bench, table, chairs and stools. Costumes are appropriately youthful, understated and artistic. Nothing overshadows the distinction of the young, unbelievably talented cast.

Bernstein’s peppy, tune-packed, syncopated score keeps your toes tapping overture is now my absolutely favorite piece of music especially as presented with great brio by Musical Director Ming Aldrich-Gan who plays like he has 42 fingers on each hand and was instantly rewarded with a bursting-with-bravos standing ovation.

The first moment of heavenly bliss within seconds were when the angelic tones of Ryan Farnsworth’s Candide soared through the church from the rear organ loft. His singing was so pure that you just kvelled from his rendition, never noticing how sad the lyrics were.  Ryan Farnsworth is a native Californian with well-deserved honors in musical theater from UC, Irvine. He strolls down the nave of the church singing the introduction to the ensuing wicked quartet, Life is Happiness Indeed, which is as melodic as the quartet in Rigoletto, but much more amusing. What innocence! What purity! What devilish eyes!  What adorable green knickers! Where has Ryan been all my life? On national tours, in small theaters, at Disneyland and on Celebrity and Norwegian Cruises.  Hearing Ryan singing on a boat gives me a better excuse for return to the Caribbean than purchasing fake Rolexes.

Ellie Bensinger, a very pretty, very young, lilting coloratura soprano, plays Cunegonde, Candide’s (and practically everyone else’s) love interest. She sings “Glitter and Be Gay” with an extraordinary command of the higher registers for someone comparatively inexperienced. I also very much enjoyed Greg Horton in his dual roles of Voltaire and Dr. Pangloss. However, all of the performers are exceptional. The first act is as good as it gets and takes up two thirds of the time.  The book of the second act is weaker but fortunately shorter.  Thanks to the exquisite simplicity of the production, the singing is never overshadowed. Theater 2020 has once again proven that you can easily delight an audience when you have 1000 times more imagination than funding, as they do. Tickets are only $18 and Candide plays Friday and Saturday nights at 8 pm and Sunday afternoon at 3 until March 3rd.

Sitting near the alter in a church for such enjoyable two hours had a spiritual effect on my cynical character. I now have a confession to make.  I plan to see Candide at least one more time before it closes. It’s worth another trip to Brooklyn, especially now that I know how to go.

Saint Charles Borromeo Church, located at 19 Sidney Place btwn Joralemon St. & Aitken Place in Brooklyn Heights. Subways: 2, 3, 4 or 5 to Borough Hall, A or F to Jay Street, C to High Street.8