Prossy Garnett arrives at the office of her employer, Anglican minister and ChristianSocialist James Mavor Morell, to prepare for the day’s work (“A Fine October Morning”).Morell has just received an urgent missive from the Guild of St. Matthew asking himto reconsider his decision to cancel a speech that evening. He has done so in orderto spend the evening with his wife, Candida, who is returning for just one night fromtheir country home, where she has been with their children. Morell’s curate, Lexy Mills,arrives (tardily as usual) and upon studying the letter announces that the only replacementthat can be found is the president of the Agnostic League, who insists on thedivorce of socialism from Christianity. This being contrary to everything Morell standsfor, he reverses his decision to not speak and prepares his speech (“Sermon”).Morell reconciles with spending only the afternoon with his wife (“Candida’s ComingHome”), who arrives accompanied by a young poet (and nephew to an Earl), EugeneMarchbanks. Marchbanks, Lexy and Morell are all captivated by Candida’s charm,while Prossy alone is unimpressed (“Enchantment” / “In Response”). Morell asksMarchbanks to stay for lunch, but the poet explains that Candida asked him to leave,though he doesn’t understand why. Morell tries delicately to infer that a husband andwife who haven’t seen each other for a while might like privacy for conjugal reasons.Marchbanks is horrified, and professes his love for Candida, and a sparring matchresults (The First Preaching Match: “The Love of a Fool” / “Kingdom of Heaven” / “Is ItLike This for Her Here Always?”). When Marchbanks compares Morell to King David,dancing naked before the ark of God, whipping his followers into a frenzy but foolishin front of his wife, Morell snaps and attacks Marchbanks, who cowers in fear butdeclares that while he is afraid of violence he is not afraid of a clergyman’s ideas, andwill fight them.
After lunch, Marchbanks inadvertently changes the settings on Prossy’s typewriter justas she walks in. She playfully suggests he thinks of the typewriter as a machine thatcan make love letters at the turn of a handle. Recognizing a capacity for poetry andlove in Prossy, Marchbanks senses a kindred spirit and implores her to open up to him(“Shy, Shy, Shy”). Prossy reveals that she is in fact in love with Morell. Having believedit impossible for a woman to truly love the minister, Marchbanks is crushed to realizeCandida may indeed love her husband.
Alone together for the first time that day, Candida begins teasing Morell, telling himthat he works too hard; that his congregants don’t really listen to his words anyway;that women come to his sermons only because he is so handsome; and that she thinksMarchbanks is about to fall in love with her (“Isn’t He Foolish?”). When she kissesMorell, he views it as a Judas kiss and begins raving. Marchbanks runs in to see whatis wrong, and Candida, embarrassed, busies herself filling the lamps. Marchbankstells Candida that he would take her far away from her daily routine (“Shallops andScrubbing Brushes”), and Morell, seeing his wife’s delight in Marchbanks, announcesthat he is off to give his speech (“Off to the Guild of St. Matthew”), leaving Candidaalone with Marchbanks in a test of their marriage.
In the twilight, Eugene reads poetry to Candida. He places his head in her lap andcalls her by her first name, and she, believing this to be an innocent and naive declarationof love, gently navigates him through the moment with kindness and integrity,teaching him that he can love her without shame and that she can love him back withoutcompromising her marriage vows (“At the Gate of Heaven” / “Candida, Candida!”).When Morell returns he demands that Marchbanks tell him what has happened inhis absence (“The Second Preaching Match”). Marchbanks claims that he seeks onlyCandida’s happiness, but Morell doubts the poet understands her. Prossy and Lexyburst in, quite tipsy, their animosity toward each other having become quite the opposite,raising the temperature in the room (“Champagne”). Morell declares that his wifemust choose between himself and Marchbanks, and Candida plays along (“The Bidsfor Candida”). After Morell offers his strengths and Marchbanks his frailties, Candidamakes her choice (“Spoiled from the Cradle”). Marchbanks, knowing he has lost, claimshe carries a greater secret in his heart and disappears “Into the Night,” leaving Candidaand Morell to embrace, while the question of the poet’s secret still lingers.
The Reverend James Mayor Morell (Baritone)
Candida, Morell's wife (Mezzo)
Eugene Marchbanks, a poet (Tenor)
Miss Prosperpine ("œProssy") Garnett, Morell's Secretary (Soprano)
The Reverend Alexander ("œLexy") Mill, Morell's Curate (Tenor/Baritone)