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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
Like any revival, even one younger than the over 80-year-old Carousel now at the Imperial Theatre must satisfy the yearning for the familiar pleasures, but also recognize the need to approach it with a fresh eye. Director Jack O'Brien has succeeded on both counts. This new-old Carousel remains a feast for the eyes and ears. Granted, his approach vis-a-vis the dated aspects of the Hammerstein book — is more a case of minimizing and airbrushing Billy's spousal abuse and Julie's ear pleasing but less than feisty "Oh, what's the use of wond'ring/ If he's good or if he's bad?/ He's your feller and you love him,/That's all there is to that."
But whether you want your Carousel with nothing trimmed or changed or with a more radically changed book, there's plenty that IS fresh and delightful about Mr. O'Brien's production: The top to bottom perfect cast. . . the stunning choreography by New York City Ballet's Justin Peck, with New York City Ballet ballet dancers Amaar Ramasar and Brittany Pollack joining him in impressive Broadway debuts. . . the colorful, varied and true to the period sets and costumes by Santo Loquasto and Ann Roth (so what if there's just carousel horse for the opening "Carousel Dance" number? It does the trick of igniting the sexual spark between the independent-minded young mill worker and the sexy carnival barker). . . Andy Einhorn's 24-piece orchestra in the pit to deliver the music without drowning out the lyrics, as is all too common on Broadway these days.
Joshua Henry, who's already made a name for himself in The Scottsboro Boys & Violet is an unforgettable Billy Bigelow. His rich baritone, and emotionally potent interpretation of a man so angry and insecure that he messes up even the one relationship that could help him to function without macho bravado and, even brutality is sure to put him at the top of Tony award nominee list of Best Performance by an actor in a musical revival. The color-blind casting of an African-American Billy, adds nuance that speaks for itself to his problems with employment and the law.
And Henry couldn't wish for a better Julie than Jessie Mueller to ignite the sexual sizzle between them. Their voices and feelings blend beautifully in their famous park bench duet, "If I Loved You."
Lindsay Mendez and Alexander Gemignani are so amusing and engaging as Carrie Pipperidge and Enoch Snow, the counterpoint couple to Julie and Billy's doomed love story, that you tend to overlook that their marriage also dates back to another type of relationship.
Carousel's operatic grandeur is underscored by the presence of opera diva Renee Fleming to bring her lush soprano to the role of Julie's cousin Nettie Fowler. Her "You'll Never Walk Alone Again" solo is one of this production's major show stoppers.
Margaret Colin is terrific as Billie's boss and possessive older lover, Mrs. Mullin. And, like ballet dancer Robert Fairchild who proved he could not only dance but act impressively in An American in Paris, Amar Ramasar invigorates the eye-popping male dance numbers, and also does fine as Jigger, the cause of Billy's undoing.
Finally, there's the always somewhat too corny second act scene that fast forwards fifteen years and finds Billy demanding that the Star Keeper who's this fable's doorman to heaven or hell, put him in touch with "The Highest Judge of All." It's here quite enjoyable thanks to the great Shakespearean actor Jon Douglas Thompson taking on this relatively minor, non-singing role (he also reappears briefly as that of the town doctor in the finale). The somewhat tacked-on feeling of other worldly meeting between Billy and the teen aged daughter Louise who he never lived to love, is also offset here courtesy of Brittany Pollack's thrilling ballet for Louise.
All things considered, whether you miss items cut or the director's decision not to tamper all that much with the book, Carousel retains enough of its "masterwork" essence for me to urge you to put it on your "not to be missed" list.
Postscript Since Carousel's book is based on Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnar's Liliom, you might mark June 11th on your calendar. That's when the Mint Theater is putting on a staged reading of the play, in which Billy was also a carousel barker but Julie a servant girl. The 1909 play was failure when it premiered in Budapest but fared better when translated into English and presented on Broadway by the Theatre Guild in 1921.
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Music by Richard Rodgers
Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Directed Jack O'Brien
Choreographed by Justin Peck
Cast: Joshua Henry as Billy Bigelow, Jessie Mueller as Julie Jordan, Renee Fleming as Nettie Fowler, Lindsay Mendez as Carrie Pipperidge, Alexander Gemignani as Enoch Snow, Margaret Colin as Mrs. Mullin, Amar Ramasar as Jigger, Brittany Pollock as Louise.
Sets: Santo Loquasto
Costumes: Ann Roth
Lighting: Brian MacDevitt
Sound: Scott Lehrer
Orchestration: Jonathan Tunick
Musical supervision and direction:, Andy Einhorn
Hair,Wigs and Makeup: Campbell Young Associates
Fight Director: Steve Rankin
Stage Manager: Trip Philips
Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, 2 intermission
Imperial Theatre 249 West 45th Street
From 2/28/18,opening 4/12/18.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at April 15th press matinee
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