Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 3, 2012

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel

Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddam, CT
through September 29, 2012
by R.E. Smith

            Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel” is a “classic” musical, bringing with it all the benefits and drawbacks such a title conveys. The benefit is that no one does “classic” better than Goodspeed and there are songs, performers, choreography and technical elements in this production that shine. The drawback lies in some elements of the book, characters, and dialogue that are rooted in the time of its creation.
            As Musical Director Michael O’Flaherty’s marvelous orchestra whisks us along to the lilting “Prologue”, we meet Billy Bigelow, rugged and handsome roustabout and Julie Jordan, reserved but restless New England mill worker. Good girl meets bad (but sensitive) boy, boy and girl fall in love; romance and tragedy ensue.
            The show is a compendium of many different theatrical elements; a blending that at the time of its creation was innovative. There are elements of light opera, ballet, and pantomime. There are familiar “show tunes” like “June is Bustin' Out All Over,” and ”You’ll Never Walk Alone.” There is also “A Real Nice Clambake,” which is probably the only time a picnic menu has been successfully set to music.
            Director Rob Ruggiero, who helmed last year’s wonderful production of “Showboat,” makes the New England setting a character unto itself. A background of abstract clouds combines with Alejo Vietti’s costumes, to create tableaus straight out of a Winslow Homer painting. He skillfully mixes real and fantastic elements.
            James Synder as Bigelow, has a truly impressive voice, especially in the Act 1 closer “Soliloquy.” He balances the torment, tenderness, and damage that could prove unsympathetic if not done right. Teal Wicks brings a unique,  straight forward, Yankee, sensibility to Julie but her lovely voice is underserved by the score. (Erin Davie will replace Wick in the role as of August 8.)
Jeff Kready & Jenn Gambatese/Photo by Diane Sobolewski
            Audience favorites are the characters of “Carrie Pipperidge” played by Jenn Gambatese and her somewhat reticent but ambitious beau “Enoch Snow” played by Jeff Kready. The spunky Carrie gets the best lines, the cutest songs, and the better man and makes the best use of her Down east accent.
             The show does have a dark undercurrent, some of it stemming from Billy’s discontent. More of a problem is Billy’s unscrupulous friend Jigger, who not only leads the barker down a ruinous path, but also tries to assault a woman. The book attempts to lighten his brutal moments with humor, but an uncomfortable sensation remains.
            “Carousel” does succeed overall; at times, tender, moving, romantic and sentimental. As always, the Goodspeed production is well acted, sung and beautiful to watch. Fans will be well satisfied and newcomers are bound to find themselves fondly recalling magical moments both large and small.