A Minister’s Wife, a chamber musical in performances at the Mitzi Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center, is reminiscent of a delicately decorated candied bon-bon – sweet, lovely and absolutely unnecessary. Based on George Bernard Shaw’s Candida, the musical explores marital life and religion, and what happens when the two topics are threatened by external forces.
Conceived and directed by Michael Halberstam, A Minister’s Wife features music by Joshua Schmidt and lyrics by Jan Levy Tranen and a book by Austin Pendleton.The titular character is played by the lovely Kate Fry and Marc Kudish plays her husband the Rev. James Mavor Morell. Bobby Steggert portrays Eugene Marchbanks, the poet infatuated with Candida. Drew Gehling plays Morell’s curate, Rev. Alexander Mill and Liz Baltes is amusing as Morell’s secretary Prossy.
Love and religion are not the only topics addressed in A Minister’s Wife; capitalism and the economy are also touched upon. Morell’s dedication to the working man is admirable, but it is clear that his marriage to Candida has suffered as a result. Played by Fry, Candida is a warm, effusive woman, but she is given so little time onstage that it is difficult to understand why Eugene is so taken by her. As Eugene, Steggert channels the quiet intensity he demonstrated so well in Ragtime and The Grand Manner, and his adoration is so sincere it is difficult to not root for him to win Candida’s affection.
Kudisch possesses a soaring voice and a stalwart manner that render him as an extremely believable minister with a devoted following. When he and Steggert go head to head over Candida, it is one of the performance’s more engaging moments. And while the music is lovely and the actors are talented, the show’s pace slackens as the plot progresses, and it is difficult to understand why this story was set to music to begin with. Seeing A Minister’s Wife is a charming way to pass an afternoon, but only if you’re not in a hurry to be anywhere else.