By: Paulanne Simmons
April 23, 2018 As Carousel is my second favorite musical of the 20th century (Showboat comes first), there’s pretty much nothing anyone could do to make me dislike a Carousel revival. And the current one, directed by Jack O’Brien, certainly has much to be commended.
First and foremost there’s the triumvirate of Joshua Henry (Billy Bigelow), Jessie Mueller (Julie Jordan) and Renée Fleming (Nettie Fowler), whose glorious voices bring Rodgers and Hammerstein’s equally glorious score to life.Then there’s Santo Loquasto’s sumptuous set that returns us naturally and elegantly to the turn of the last century. Finally, there’s Justin Peck’s choreography that so effectively mixes romance, lust and power.
With all that said, there’s the big elephant in the room, which is the absolute miscasting of Joshua Henry and the subsequent misdirection.
Sure, Billy Bigelow is not exactly a nice guy. He’s vain. He’s narcissistic. He has an aversion to work. And worst of all, he beats his wife. But Carousel, no matter how dark it becomes, is a love story, and in order to make a love story believable we need to understand what the young lady sees in the young man.
Henry’s Billy is so unloving, so distant, so brutal – and all this from the very beginning – there is no way we can understand what Julie is attracted to, much less what keeps her by Billy’s side. One gets the feeling Mueller may have no more insight than we do. The chemistry between Billy and Julie couldn’t set a bundle of hay on fire after a drought.
Fortunately, the supporting actors often pick up the slack. Lindsay Mendez is an ebullient Carrie, and Alexander Gemignani has the perfect measure of self-satisfied rectitude as her betrothed, Enoch Snow. Together they make one of most deliciously mismatched couples in musical theater.
And of course Fleming’s spine-tingling “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is worth the price of the ticket in and of itself.
When a musical is over half a century old, it’s easy to see why a director would want to give it a facelift. But Carousel is a delicate bit of genius. Weighing it down with 21st century socio-political messages is like putting a halter on a butterfly and expecting it to fly.
Imperial Theatre, 249 W 45th St
Photography: Julieta Cervantes