Matthew White directs an ebullient in-the-round (and in-your-face) revival of this endlessly rewritten operetta but it doesn't solve any of the problems that have perennially beset it.
Bernstein's score is a miracle of sparkling comic pastiche; the lyrics (by several hands) are unflaggingly droll. But Voltaire's satire against the complacency of philosophical optimism is basically one joke taken on a picaresque global tour of disaster spots and religious iniquities.
White's cast (which includes Scarlett Strallen as a rather heavy-handed Cunegonde) sing up a storm and revel in the delicious guying of absurd literary conventions.
It's a pity, though, that the production reverts to Hugh Wheeler's 1973 book which is a one-damn-thing-after-another romp unlike John Caird's 1999 NT rewrite which tried to impose some unity on the proceedings by introducing Voltaire as puppet master.
James Dreyfus is in fine form as a gamey, disreputable Pangloss. Fra Fee brings a sweet tousled soulfulness to the naïve hero.
But the repetitiveness and the musical lurches between knowing mock-flippancy and plangent lament deterring emotional engagement.
And so here the climactic “Make Our Garden Grow” chorale manages to feel at once spine-tingling and spiritually unearned.
To 22 February 2014; 020 7378 1713
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