Sunday, August 19, 2012

Review of Goodspeed Opera House's "Carousel"

Composer Richard Rodgers has stated that Carousel was the favorite score he wrote during his collaboration with Oscar Hammerstein.  Who could argue with his choice when you have should songs as “Mister Snow,” “If I Loved You,” “June is Bustin’ Out All Over,” “Soliloquy,” “When the Children are Asleep,” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” interwoven within the show.  The musical selections are just one of the highlights of the Goodspeed Opera House’s marvelous production of Carousel, running now through the end of September.

Rodgers and Hammerstein were always looking to stretch the boundaries of musical theater.  Oklahoma! in 1943, their initial effort together, was a landmark event.  It was truly the first time the score, book, and dance were so well-integrated into a musical production.  The songs and choreography developed naturally through the storyline.  Their second effort, Carousel in 1945, continued their experimentation.  For example, the overture was displaced.  Instead, a pantomime prologue, performed to the beautifully haunting “Carousel Waltz,” starts the show. 

Rodgers and Hammerstein adapted Carousel from the play Lilliom.  The locale was moved from Budapest to the Maine coastline.  The plot centers around Billy, a charismatic, yet roguish carousel barker, who falls for the innocent, but strong-willed mill worker, Julie Jordan.  Soon married, their marriage, is about to dissolve when Billy learns Julie is pregnant.  Suddenly, he becomes a changed man looking forward to fatherhood.  Not knowing how to support his impending family, since he has been out-of-work the night he met Julie, Billy agrees to team-up with his scheming and treacherous friend, Jigger, to rob the mill’s owner.  The plan goes horribly wrong and Billy stabs himself rather then going to jail.  Now in heaven, waiting to be judged, he is given a chance to return to earth, for one day, to redeem himself.  He meets his daughter, now 15 years old and more of an outcast due to Billy’s legacy in town, in an encounter that does not go well.  As the musical ends Billy’s spectral presence stands by his child, seated at her high school graduation, as the commencement speaker states “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

Hammerstein’s book successfully shifts the action to a quaint Maine town in the late 1800’s, which enables him to encapsulate a bygone era when life was simpler.  The end can be viewed as rather schmaltzy and preachy, but does leave you exiting the theater with a lump in your throat.   The score, as mentioned before, is outstanding.  Enough said.

All of the main actors are outstanding, leading off with Erin Davie as the vunerable, yet resolute Julie Jordan.  When she started with the first notes of “If I Loved You,” I got goosebumps.  Jenn Gambatese, as Julie’s best friend, Carrie, also has a golden voice and the perfect comic touch for her role.  James Snyder’s Billy Bigelow is rakish, stubborn and proud, with a full-throttled baritone.  Tally Sessions’ Jigger Craigin provides a menacing presence that hangs over the New England village.

The choreography by Parker Esse, while muted throughout the production, breaks out for the act two ballet sequence, an homage to adolescent passion and youthful abandon.

Rob Ruggiero’s direction, sure-handed as ever, effortlessly guides the musical through its multi-layered storylines.

Carousel, now at the Goodspeed Opera House though September 29th.

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