Bernstein is one of our greatest theater composers, and this is his best musical. Actually, it's musically so far beyond the average musical, it becomes much closer to operetta. Make no mistake, however. This isn't about disguised student princes in love with beautiful barmaids, and the music is hardly gemütlich schmaltz. The idiom is modern and tuneful, the lyrics, by real poets (Richard Wilbur, John LaTouche, Dorothy Parker), among the best we have. Lillian Hellman adapted Voltaire's novel about an innocent at large and managed to draw parallels to contemporary Joe-McCarthyism. Sadly, the satire still bites. For a change, something for grownups. This is our best musical, although it flopped in its initial run. Bernstein kept tinkering with it almost the rest of his life and managed to record his final thoughts. The recording is a valuable document because it contains everything he wanted to keep, but, believe it or not, the performance isn't a patch on the original-cast recording of selections, conducted by Samuel Krachmalnick.
DG 429734-2 (composer's final revised version)
Sony SK48017 (selections; original cast)
Copyright © 1996 by Steve Schwartz.