Carousel Review Chi.Tribune (3-25-94)
'Carousel' rides again with high drama By Richard Christiansen Tribune Chief Critic NEW YORK In a remarkable reawakening, "Carousel" has returned to the stage here in a bold new production production that infuses this American musical theater classic with a fresh and startling startling emotional power. Adapted from Ferenc Molnar's European European drama, "Liliom," and first presented presented on Broadway almost 50 years ago, in 1945, "Carousel" represents a high-water high-water high-water mark of the songmaking of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II. "If I Loved You," "June Is Bustin' Out All Over" and "You'll Never Walk Alone" are only the most famous pieces in a score overflowing with beauty. Despite this, and despite a history of successful revivals and a 1956 movie version, "Carousel's" story, of the love between Billy Bigelow, a braggart carnival carnival barker, and Julie Jordan, a shy factory worker in a New England village, village, has often been considered cloy-ingly cloy-ingly cloy-ingly sentimental. Two years ago, however, the Royal National Theatre presented the musical in a new London production, directed by Nicholas Hytner and designed by Bob Crowley, that strongly asserted the work's drama and adventurously mined its feelings. The result was an amazing rediscovery rediscovery of a work of art one that found Theater what had always been in the show but had rarely been revealed. It is this production, transferred to the Vivian Beaumont Theatre of Lincoln Lincoln Center with a new, American cast, that reclaimed "Carousel" as a supreme work of music and drama. From the opening scenic explosion of the "Carousel" waltz to the closing view of an infinite, star-splashed star-splashed star-splashed heaven, this is a stunningly imagined view of the musical, realized to breathtaking effect in Crowley's monumental, minimalist designs on the vast depths of the Beaumont's open stage. The production is generally well-sung well-sung well-sung and well-danced well-danced well-danced (with choreography by Kenneth MacMillan still uncompleted at his death, before rehearsals for the London production were to begin.) But above all, this "Carousel" resonates resonates with passion because of the depth of feeling that Hytner and the cast have unearthed in the story. Julie and Billy, as portrayed by Sally Murphy Murphy and Michael Hayden (the sole cast member imported from London), are terribly young and fragile creatures of society's underclass, he despite his abusive violence. Consequently, their "If I Loved You" duet comes across with smashing emotional force, the hes itant tentative way in which they whisper whisper "if giving even more power to their outpouring of "I loved you." Hayden's voice is not up to the virtuoso virtuoso vocal demands of Billy's climactic climactic first-act first-act first-act "Soliloquy," but he compensates compensates by stressing in his acting the poignant hope he expresses in the song for the child Julie will soon bear. The production has flaws: a sub-"Romeo sub-"Romeo sub-"Romeo and Juliet" pas de deux from MacMillan, a muffled sound from the orchestra pit and a shrill performance by the actress playing Billy's teenage daughter Louise in the second act But there is strong, steady supporting work from Kate Buddeke, as the lusty carousel owner who also loves Billy; Robert Breuler as the sleek capitalist owner of the grim woolen mill where Julie works; and Shirley Verrett as Nettie Fowler, the kindly older woman who leads the chorus in "June" and "A Real Nice Clambake." Other "Carousel" characters have been redefined for our time. Julie's best friend Carrie, exuberantly portrayed by a black actress (Audra Ann Mac-Donald, Mac-Donald, Mac-Donald, in great voice), is matched with a white actor (Eddie Korbich) in the role of her prim, bald, fisherman suitor Mr. Snow, and their second-act second-act second-act brood of eight children is divided between black and white youngsters. This "Carousel" is not just changed on the surface, however. This is a deep, true revitalization of a masterpiece.