By: David Sheward
Carousel was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s follow-up to Oklahoma!, their first big hit as a team, and many regard the sophomore effort as the legendary duo’s finest work. Rodgers’ gorgeous melodies and Hammerstein’s intricate yet folksy lyrics combine to tell of the tragic marriage of Billy Bigelow, a bullying but attractive carnie and Julie Jordan, a simple but strong-willed mill worker. The sentiment of unconditional love even if your husband is an abusive lout may be politically incorrect today, but the power of redemption as expressed by Billy’s transformation as a spirit and the sheer beauty of the evergreen score places the show in the pantheon of Broadway classics.
The Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, New York which began presenting musicals along with its usual fare of operas a few seasons back, delivers a technically proficient production of the 1945 work, but Charles Newell’s direction is lacking in the necessary passion.
The musical component of the evening is richly fulfilled by conductor Doug Peck and the vocal performances of the company. Handsome Ryan McKinny who made for a smolderingly sexy Flying Dutchman at Glimmerglass last season, is a solid Billy with a smoky, dark baritone. His performance of the iconic soliloquy is a towering achievement of control and nuance. Andrea Carroll’s Julie has the right sweet soprano without being syrupy. Their duet of the memorable "If I Loved You" is enchanting to hear, but there is no chemical reaction between the two leads. So when Billy kills himself after a thwarted robbery attempt, there is no emotional wallop. Almost immediately afterwards, Julie’s practical and compassionate cousin Nettie sings the always-uplifting "You’ll Never Walk Alone" to inspire the new widow to keep on "caring about what happens." While Deborah Nansteel lends a musician-like purity to the standard, she doesn’t build to a moving climax. The song just finishes rather than soaring to a tear-inducing ending.
Newell adds to the lack of drama by double casting Rebecca Finnegan as Mrs. Mullins, Billy’s hard-edged employer on the carousel and the Heavenly Friend who guides Billy to the spirit world. While Finnegan is marvelous in both roles, creating totally separate characters, one appears right after the other and costume designer Jessica Jahn has dressed them similarly, causing some confusion.
The strongest presence is provided by Carolina M. Villaraos as Louise, Julie and Billy’s unhappy daughter. Performing Daniel Pelzig’s choreography (which appears strongly influenced by Agnes de Mille’s original steps), she conveys the teenager’s longing for love and guidance. In a moving duet with Andrew Harper as a heartless roustabout much like her father, she intensely expresses the frustrations of adolescence through movement. You can tell this Louise wants something, but she can’t name it yet.
Sharin Apostolou and Joe Shadday provide laughs as the secondary couple, the giddy Carrie Pipperidge and her beau, the righteous fisherman Enoch Snow while Ben Edquist is a dark yet funny Jigger, Billy’s no-good sailor colleague, and Wynn Harmon brings a wry, dry wit to the Starkeeper.
This Carousel is a satisfying night for your ears, but the heart wants more.
July 12-Aug. 22. Glimmerglass Festival at the Alice Busch Opera Theatre, 7300 State Highway 80, Cooperstown, NY. Repertory schedule. Running time: two hours and 50 mins. including one intermission. $10-$144. 607-547-2255 or www.glimmerglass.org/