"CANDIDE," Utah Lyric Opera Ensemble, Kingsbury Hall, Thursday; additional performance tonight, 7:30 p.m. (581-7100)

As a composer, Leonard Bernstein found success on Broadway. While he wrote in all genres — from serious symphonic works to comedies — it was the theater that brought out the best in him.

But not all of his many works found immediate acceptance. One of these is "Candide." Based on Voltaire's play of the same name, "Candide" had a very short run when it opened in 1957. And despite several revisions over the following 20 years, it never truly caught on and never found its niche on Broadway.

In recent years, however, that has changed. "Candide" has enjoyed several successful revivals in the United States and Europe. Currently playing at the New York City Opera, the work is slowly finding a permanent spot in theaters and opera houses.

Locally, "Candide" has been staged twice — in 1978 at the University of Utah and in 1985 by the Pioneer Theatre Company. And after 30 years, "Candide" has finally returned to the U.

The Utah Lyric Opera Ensemble is playing it this weekend in two performances at Kingsbury Hall. Using the Scottish Opera version of 1988, the Lyric Opera Ensemble's production is an absolute joy to see.

This production boasts a string cast, whose acting and comedic talents match its vocal powers. Part of "Candide's" problems lies in the fact that it doesn't know whether it's an opera or a Broadway show — it certainly has characteristics of both. And the cast also displays both qualities — the performers are marvelous both as singers and as actors — and that is one of the strong points of this production. "Candide" requires singers of operatic proportions, and the Lyric Opera Ensemble definitely has those in abundance.

As Cunegonde, soprano Cecily Ellis gave a stunning performance. Her voice has lyrical beauty, yet it also has the power to pull off the pyrotechnic displays in the show's most famous number, the Act II aria "Glitter and Be Gay." She was quite simply dazzling.

Tenor Shane Haag, in his first role with the Lyric Opera Ensemble, gave a powerful performance as the title character. He was utterly convincing as the innocent Candide, who gets unwittingly caught up in impossible situations he doesn't understand

Baritone Stefan Gordon as Pangloss and the Narrator, was superb. A fine actor with a voice to match, he brought dramatic vibrancy to his roles.

An absolute delight was soprano Sophia Edwards. She was captivating as the coquettish Paquette.

Not to be outdone was mezzo-soprano Rachel Webster as the Old Lady. She brought humor and wit to her role.

Anthony Buck, who plays several roles, nearly stole the show whenever he was onstage. A wonderful comic actor with a fine voice, he is always a joy to see.

The Utah Philharmonia under Robert Baldwin played wonderfully, and L.L. West's direction was, as always, spot on.

The production is performed with alternating casts.

E-mail: ereichel@desnews.com