The show: A revival of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical “Carousel” at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam.
First Impressions: You can tell right away from set designer Michael Schweikardt’s gorgeously painted seashore and sky — subtly lit by John Lasiter — that this is going to be a “Carousel” of many colors, moods and perspectives. Rob Ruggiero directs this R&H classic with taste, honesty and understanding and an affection for all the characters in this heartfelt tale of two lost souls who find both brief and everlasting love. Beautifully sung, acted and staged, it’s a Goodpeed gem.
What’s it about?: Based on “Liliom,” a play by Ferenc Molnár, story centers on the two damaged characters — Billy Bigelow, a charismatic carousel barker (James Snyder) and Julie Jordan, a mill worker (Teal Wicks) with an independent spirit, Julie Jordan (Teal Wicks) who fall in love. Billy can’t quite say those three heartfelt words. He is unhappy and abusive in his married life. But when he learns his wife is expecting a child, he is thrilled. Desperate for money he agrees to participate in a robbery that ends badly. But the after-life has its own challenges and he returns to Earth briefly to find redemption.
Sounds like quite a grab bag of moods and styles: You think? But in this production it works remarkably well as it dances between realism and the abstract.
This is also not simply a show where the scripted parts are just song segues. The music — and dance, too — effortlessly and seamlessly blend into the drama, some of which deals with some dicey stuff.
You mean the fact that the leading man is a wife beater?: Yes, though the gossips among this Maine seaside town take one incident and label Billy Bigelow for life — and beyond — not that the man doesn’t have plenty of flaws. But it is a show, after all, about redemption which makes the ending so powerful, and as performed by James Snyder, rather remarkable.
How so?: Snyder makes for a handsome leading man, full of brio and with a terrific voice that produces the requisite goose bumps in the famous, dramatically-rich “Soliloquy.” But the actor is also not afraid to show his vulnerable side, especially at the show’s end where he sacrifices the big notes for something touchingly human. He has us at goodbye.
Wicks’ Julie is a fine match and creates a self-possessed, but also insecure, character who you believe can fall in love in an instant, stay with such a damaged husband, and persevere with an inner strength and peace.
All the supporting characters are wonderfully cast, too: Jenn Gambatese’s Carrie is flighty without being a fool, sweet without being saccharine and genuine throughout. Jeff Kready’s Mr. Snow is a lovably square ginger, and Anne Kanengeiser is Yankee-solid as Julie’s cousin Nettie. Ronn Carroll as Starkeeper is everything you’d want as the maitre-d’ of heaven (that nicely has that bleached-wood, seaside feel). As Julie and Billy’s daughter Louise, Eloise Kropp acts as well as dances like a dream — in a number expressively choreographed by Parker Esse.
Even darker characters that can be played as one-note cliches, are enriched with nuance and a deeper history by Deanne Lorette as Mrs. Mullin and Tally Sessions as Jigger Craigin.
So a perfect production?: Almost, at least as far as the limits of what the Goodspeed stage can do — which is, incredibly, quite a lot, especially when it comes to creating the title centerpiece in expressionistic ways. But in making the characters more real the direction also opens the door for some indulgences and some of the scenes drag with a few emotional pauses too many. Great care has to be made that as the run goes on, these moments don’t turn into a Pinter play.
Who will like it?: Fans of Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals, those who think Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals are too sentimental; Red Lobster.
Twitter review in 140 characters or less?: This was indeed a real nice clambake.
Theater Trivia: This is the first R&H musical Goodspeed has produced in 44 years. In 1968 it produced “Allegro.” Wish I’d seen that. It’s hardly ever revived.
Thoughts on leaving the parking lot?: In a production so heavily dependent on the special relationship of the leading characters, I wonder how things will change when Erin Davie, who played Guenevere in Goodspeed’s “Camelot” in 2009, takes over in the role of Julie Jordan Wednesday, Aug. 8. Wicks is leaving the production after Sunday to be part of the national tour of a revival of “Jekyl & Hyde,” which is Broadway-bound.
The basics: The show runs through Sept. 29 — it has just been extended — at the theater at 6 Main St., East Haddam. Running time is two hours and 30 minutes, including one intermission. Performances are Wednesdays at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. (with select performances at 2 p.m.); Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. (with select performances at 6:30 p.m.). Information at 860-873-8668 and www.goodspeed.org.
Read Frank’s blog on theater, the arts and entertainment at www.courant.com/curtain. Catch Frank talking about the show during FOX/CT’s Morning Show on Friday during the 9 o’clock hour. And be the first to know by following Frank on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/ShowRiz
"Carousel" at Goodspeed Opera House: Everlasting Love Played For Real
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