The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings
A CurtainUp DC Review
Todd Rosenthal's set for the four-sided Fichandler theater has bleached white floor boards with a platform reached by elevated walkways above. That's where the 12-piece orchestra under the baton of Paul Sportelli sits. This set is an ingenious way to give the audience the feeling of being on a carousel. The light bulbs that line the platform, and the lighting by Keith Parham throughout the show, are evocative of a carnival or county fair. Top marks to the design team.
The show opens with a disorienting parade of carnival types in exaggerated costumes (designed by Ilona Somogyi) that includes a contortionist and a barker with a monkey on his back! It's all a bit much: like squashing a flea with a sledge hammer. The mime sequence in which four female mill-workers push and pull their looms to make woven cloth is distracting as is most of the mime used throughout the show. Continuity in accents is sadly missing also disconcerting as actors waft in and out of New England, New York and Irish brogues.
What makes this Carousel spin are its male and female leads. Nicholas Rodriguez has a gorgeous voice. I dare you not to shed a tear during his solo "Soliloquy." He brings strength and much-needed appeal to the character of Billy Bigelow who, as you may or may not recall, is a less than perfect human being. He's incapable of keeping a job. He gambles recklessly, beats his wife, and comes to a sorry end. As Julie Jordan, Billy's girl friend then wife, Betsy Morgan, a role that could be maudlin or ludicrously sappy, has charm and composure. These two performers are very well paired, particularly in their duet, "If I Loved You."
Two choreographers are responsible for the varied dances. The original choreography is by the late, great Agnes de Mille and the more contemporary moves are by Parker Esse. De Mille is of course most famous for having melded story with movement; however, what worked well in 1945 requires more sitzfleisch than most contemporary audiences can muster particularly in the second act ballet sequence.
Parker Esse puts the very able male ensemble through their paces particularly when "Blow High, Blow Low" weathers a storm. Michael Graceffa moves hijinks-style and in the Act II sequence partners Skye Mattox as Louise Bigelow effortlessly.
As has been said many times, there are no small parts only small actors. The small parts in this Carousel include some standouts. Child actors seem to provide a challenge to local casting directors so it is very pleasing to see Joshua Otten make the Starkeeper role realistic. Kurt Boehm, a highly reliable musical performer, as Enoch Snow, gives a pleasant delivery of "When the Children Are Asleep." He also has splendidly controlled comic timing.
Director Molly Smith has updated this period piece by softening the rough edges of the story and giving Parker Esse free rein. His dances in Act I make the show pick up much-needed speed after the languid "Carousel Waltz." The far more contemplative second act which requires a greater ability to suspend disbelief, could use some of Parker Esse's zest. Still, Rodgers and Hammerstein are progenitors of the American musical, which is reason alone to revisit their unique contribution to our culture.
Music by Richard Rodgers
Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Directed by Molly Smith
Cast: Kate Rockwell (Carrie Pipperidge); Betsy Morgan (Julie Jordan); E. Faye Butler (Mrs. Mullin); Nicholas Rodriguez (Billy Bigelow/Fight Captain); Thomas Adrian Simpson (David Bascombe/Ensemble); Ann Arvia (Nettie Fowler); Kurt Boehm (Enoch Snow/Ensemble); Kyle Schliefer (Jigger Craigin/Ensemble); Stephawn Stephens (Captain/Ensemble); Nicole Wildy (Heavenly Friend/Ensemble); Joshua Otten (Starkeeper/Ensemble); Skye Mattox (Louise Bigelow/Ensemble); Michael Graceffa (Carnival Boy/Ensemble); Jacob Beasley (Enoch Snow, Jr./Ensemble); Rayanne Gonzales (Mrs. Bascombe/Ensemble); Tony Neidenbach (Ensemble/Dance Captain); Gracie Jones, Danielle Sue Jordan, Ethan Kasnett, Emma Sophie Moore, Bridget Riley, Paul Scanlan, Jessica Wu, Phil Young (Ensemble); Katie Arthur (Female Swing); Jay Westin (Male Swing); Isabella Brody (Heavenly Friend and Starkeeper Understudy.)
Original Dances by Agnes De Mille
Choreography by Parker Esse
Set by Todd Rosenthal
Costumes by Ilona Somogy
Lighting by Keith Parham
Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth Street, SW, Washington, DC; 202-554-9066; www.arenastage.org
October 28 - November 24, 2016202-488-3300.
Review by Susan Davidson based on November 10, 2016 performance.
Musical Numbers Act One: Prologue (The Carousel Waltz): Mister Snow; If I Loved You; June is Bustin' Out All Over; reprise: Mister Snow; When the Children are Asleep; Blow High, Blow Low; Soliloquy; Finale
Musical Numbers Act Two: A Real Nice Clambake; Geraniums in the Winder; Stonecutters Cut It On Stone; What's the Use of Wond'rin; You'll Never Walk Alone; The Highest Judge of All; Ballet; reprise: If I Loved You; Finale Ultimo.
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