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A gritty, yet delicate, Carousel

The Alice Busch Theater
07/12/2014 -  & July 18, 26*, 27, August 1, 4, 10, 12, 14, 16, 19, 22, 2014
Richard Rodgers: Carousel
Andrea Carroll (Julie Jordan), Ryan McKinny (Billy Bigelow), Sharin Apostolou (Carrie Pipperidge), Joe Shadday (Enoch Snow), Deborah Nansteel (Nettie Fowler), Ben Edquist (Jigger Craigin), Rebecca Finnegan (Mrs. Mullin/Heavenly Friend), Drew Taylor (David Bascombe), Alex Domini (1st policeman), Andrew Penning (2nd policeman), Jeni Houser (Arminy), Wynn Harmon (Starkeeper/Dr. Seldon), Carolina M. Villaraos (Louise), Andrew Harper (Carnival Boy)
The Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra and Chorus, Doug Peck (conductor), David Moody (chorus master)
Charles Newell (director), Daniel Pelzig (choreographer), John Culbert (set designer), Jessica Jahn (costume designer), Mark McCullough (lighting designer)

A. Carroll & R. McKinny (© Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival)

What an odd work Carousel is! It focuses on a seemingly nice girl, Julie Jordan, who heedlessly pursues a ruffian, Billy Bigelow. She becomes pregnant despite the fact that he can’t possibly be much of a provider. He even hits her but still she sticks by him. The structure is arguably odd as well: after a lengthy orchestral prelude there is a good deal of spoken dialogue, then the first two numbers are sung by Julie’s best friend. Also challenging the audience’s expectations of what a leading man should be, Billy decides to participate in a robbery; it goes wrong whereupon he stabs himself to death. The action then takes us to heaven. Billy is allowed to return to earth to help make things right and in a rather puzzling way this comes about. Perhaps the strangest thing about it is its firmly established stature as one of the Broadway classics.

Of course the music doesn’t hurt, with such instantly memorable numbers as “If I loved you” and “You’ll never walk alone”. That big anthem was delivered here in an intimate, wistful manner, and even in its reprise at the end avoids grandiosity. “Simplicity” seemed to be the overall watchword - and simplicity requires a lot of astute stage and musical craft to accomplish.

The abstract unit set conjures up the bleak coastal community - this is aided by Daniel Pelzig’s choreography during the orchestral prelude where we see women grimly working in the mill and men hauling in the fish. Thanks to Robert Wierzel’s lighting, the set also does duty as heaven where Billy Bigelow is given the set of intructions by which he might be able to redeem his past actions. The choreographer gets a chance to show what he can really do in the lengthy dance scene in Act II where we see Julie and Billy’s daughter, Louise, feel her way through a trouble adolescence along with the character known as the Carnival Boy. Carolina M. Villaraos and Andrew Harper truly shine in these roles.

Andrea Carroll displays an ardent soulfulness in the role of Julie - very apropos given the enigmatic nature of her willful attraction to the “bad boy”. Sharin Apostolou strikes all the right notes as Julie’s friend, Carrie, and fellow Young Artist Joe Shadday is convincing as the upwardly-mobile Enoch Snow. One staging innovation - and a shocking moment - is when Enoch knocks Carrie down over a minor disagreement. We never see Billy hit Julie (she reports that he has done so) - perhaps this visual moment of wife-beating is to remind us of the societal background of the day and place.

The most challenging role is that of Billy Bigelow and it takes a while for the character’s charm to come across the footlights. Ryan McKinny’s laser-focused baritone is put to best use in the challenging “Soliloquy” when Billy shows a winning tender side as he contemplates fatherhood - but then its ominous ending leads him on to the robbery attempt. Young Artist Ben Edquist stands out as Billy’s bad influence, Jigger Craigin.

Conductor Doug Peck’s approach lovingly emphasizes the work’s tender side. There is considerable spoken dialogue and 90% of it comes across crisp and clear. Francesca Zambello’s belief in the worth of presenting an annual musical without amplification is once again borne out. Next year’s classic musical: Bernstein’s Candide.

Michael Johnson



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