Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 22, 2009


Barrington Stage, Pittsfield, MA
through July 11, 2009
by Shera Cohen

Theatre audiences of today expect musicals that meld the lyrics with the music so that there is little doubt that the two easily become one. This was not the case in 1945 when Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Carousel" hit New York. Rolling in and off the stages were songs, dance, dialogue, and sometimes plot. According to Time Magazine, this time it was different, calling R&H's work "the best musical of the 20th Century."

In recent years, "Carousel" has not often been produced. Barrington Stage mounts the play as the opening mainstage show in their 15th season. Barrington has not so much taken on a huge task, but given itself a box office test. Yes, the replicated 1900s New England wharf, colorful petticoat dresses, "human" carousel of horse bodies (beautiful, gently moving), and some big dance numbers make for an ambitious undertaking, and all succeed very well. Yet, the play is dated in theme and style - perhaps a minus, or perhaps a plus. It's 2009, the economy dips daily; is this something to be constantly reminded of 24/7? Maybe not, and just maybe the 21st Century audience needs the nostalgia of joy and even sadness of experiencing "Carousel" again, or for the first time.

Julianne Boyd's well-directed performance has exactly what this musical should have. It's old in look and feel, and probably very similar to the original of 60+ years ago. While the reprises seem to go on and on; well, that's what R&H wrote. However, "Carousel," Barrington, Boyd, and company give it all they've got for the important stuff, and oftentimes that means long sections of the play. Patricia Noonan and Aaron Ramey, in the lead roles, have wonderful voices which launch the show with "If I Loved You." Noonan's "What's the Use of Wond'rin" poignantly foreshadows her life. Surely, the single best reason for hiring Ramey is to sing the exquisite, emotional, and so lengthy that it takes a 180 degree turn - "Soliloquy." He nails it. Normally, the role of Carrie is annoying, but Sara Jean Ford's smart soprano gives her character charisma. Finally, kudos to the piano duet that manages to easily carry the dance pieces, "Carousel Waltz" and "Ballet."