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Carousel – Reprise Series – Freud Playhouse – Los Angeles Musical Theater Review  

 

THE LITTLE MIRACLES OF CAROUSEL 

 

picture - CarouselTheater Review 

by Harvey Perr 

published January 29, 2010 

 

Carousel 

now playing in Los Angeles at the Freud Playhouse 

through February 7

 

When a show comes to us after only ten days of rehearsals, we don’t expect miracles. But when stardust clings to a production in the way that it clings to the Reprise Theatre Company's bare-bones revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, we must, at least, acknowledge that, sometimes, little miracles are possible.

 

First little miracle: Who needs painted horses when, by strategically placing a few chairs, some ribbons of string and a smattering of lights in a circle that just happens to fit on a revolving stage, you can magically create a carousel, while, just a few feet away, the onstage orchestra, lovingly conducted by Darryl Archibald, plays the eternally dreamlike waltz that Richard Rodgers wrote to create the atmosphere for his and Oscar Hammerstein II’s musical version of Ferenc Molnar’s Liliom? (That orchestra, incidentally, gets bigger and bolder as the evening progresses, in thrall to one of the most beautiful scores ever written for our musical theater.)

 

Second little miracle: Her name is Alexandra Silber. Remember it. She is making what may be the most memorable debut of the season. You saw her here first; you will be seeing her again. As Julie Jordan, the plain cotton-mill worker who surrenders almost immediately to the cold but inviting carnival barker Billy Bigelow, and whose life is transformed by that first encounter, Ms. Silber, with her lyric soprano, her gently self-effacing manner, her limpid and quietly affecting characterization, is absolutely luminous. You will – stand warned – want to hold her in your arms, brush away her cares, and, when, in the second act, she sings “What’s The Use  Of Wond’rin?” (“You’re his girl and he’s your fella’ / And all the rest is talk”) with such wistful and plaintive passion, your heart will, first of all, melt, and, secondly, break. (I cannot vouch for the more stone-hearted members of the audience.)

 

picture - CarouselOne could make a long list of the minor epiphanies that are spotted through the long but nevertheless compact evening. It starts with the sensitive and intelligent work of its director, Michael Michetti, who is not afraid to take his time molding a scene so that every bit of the purest kind of emotion emanates from it. Watch the way Billy and Julie meet: the brusqueness and casualness of Billy’s behavior, the firmness of Julie’s position even as she is clearly acquiescing, the circling around each other, the reaching out to each other, the hiding from each other, the gorgeous way that “If I Loved You” refines and defines their little dance of getting to know each other. It is a whole relationship in miniature.

 

picture - CarouselThere is the splendid ensemble work. The women – Victoria Strong as Julie’s Aunt Nettie giving full crystalline voice to “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over” and “A Real Nice Clambake” and lending warm no-nonsense support to her niece; Jane Noseworthy’s Carrie who manages to be innocent and knowing simultaneously; Tracy Lore, who finds something sympathetic and dignified in the predatory Mrs. Mullin – all stand out. But Andy Taylor is a terrific Mr. Snow with a strong voice and a nimble strut. And the wonderfully wooly M. Emmet Walsh, who plays the Starkeeper, reads the stage directions as if they were woven into the tapestry of the evening, creating, with words, the small Maine fishing town in which the action takes place at the turn of the last century.

 

Then there’s the matter of cutting costs without losing effectiveness. Gary Lennon’s costumes are simple but evocative. It would probably be impossible to re-create Agnes DeMille’s dances on a full-scale, but Lee Martino’s fluid and straightforward choreography goes a long way towards giving the illusion of doing so, and his work on “Blow High, Blow Low” is rousing and the elegiac ballet between Louise, Billy and Julie’s daughter, and a carnival boy is graceful work indeed, as danced by Kimberly Mikesell and John Todd.

 

One doesn’t want to give away the end, but what might have been handled pretentiously, under the budget-conscious circumstances, is handled instead with economy and taste and imagination, bringing a wonderful evening in the theater to a wonderful close. (“Off I would go in the mist of day,” indeed!)

 

picture - CarouselAfter a mere ten days of rehearsals, as mentioned at the top of this review, a flawless evening would have been impossible. There are awkward moments, to be sure. And the dances will, no doubt, get better with each performance. And, in Robert Patteri, the Billy Bigelow of this production, we get a performance that is only intermittently effective (but, when it’s important, in the “Soliloquy” and in the final sections, Petteri’s powerful voice and his oddly gentle approach to the character come through). But these are minor complaints. This is a revival that should be seen by many more people than will get a chance to see it in such a severely limited run.

 

Also, it doesn’t hurt that Carousel is one of the enduring masterpieces of the American musical theater and it is always good to be reminded of how brilliant Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II were at the peak of their collaboration. But since this, too, is living theater, there is the event of a star being born. Once again, Alexandra Silber is her name.

 

harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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