Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 8, 2010


Goodspeed, East Haddam, CT
through September 18, 2010
by Karo Sadowicz

It takes something special to stand out as the oddball in a group of circus performers, and "Carnival's" heroine, Lili (Lauren Worsham), has it in spades. Recently arrived from a tiny village in late 1940s France, the penniless and naïve orphan hopes to find work in a traveling circus. Her wide-eyed innocence is met with cynicism and disdain at first, but eventually wins over the jaded performers, and a bitter puppeteer who falls for her.

Worsham plays Lili without a hint of irony or self-deprecation, making her naïve to the point of being confounding. But it's Lily's childlike way and kindness that make the circus puppet show a smash hit and charm Paul, the puppeteer (Adam Monley). Paul is brooding and at times relentlessly cruel, showing kindness only through his puppets, and Monley makes great use of them to express the facets on Paul that can't be revealed otherwise.

The ensemble cast makes magic on stage with elaborate displays of acrobatic prowess and serious dance chops. The beautifully detailed set is outfitted with ladders, ropes, and a trapeze, transforming swiftly from a beachside boardwalk to a circus tent. The costumes and set dazzle with bold colors and rich details, and the actors are not outfitted for just a play, but for a show. The lighting is designed to amplify the dizzying mix of colors and movement, recalling the way a circus may seem to a child when seen for the first time.

Mike McGowan is sleazy but charming as Marco the Magnificent, the circus headliner and lothario. Michelle Blakely is saucy and hilarious as his longtime partner and girlfriend. The ensemble of performers seems to triple in size, creating the illusion of a much larger venue.

Goodspeed's presentation of "Carnival!" delivers the awe and delight of a circus. What the show lacks in memorable songs, it makes up for in outstanding song, dance, and acrobatic performances. The well-rehearsed troupe create everything from a carnival funhouse to a Paris nightclub on stage, earning oohs, aahs, and much applause from the enthralled audience. At its best, "Carnival!" transports the audience, using just color, rhythm, and glitter.