BWW Reviews: Colorful Backdrop, Soothing Music Soften Carousel's Harsh Tale
By Lauren Yarger
Looking at Michael Schweikardt's beautifully painted New England Town, the soft pastels and late-19th century costumes by Alejo Vietti and hearing Rodgers and Hammerstein's moving score (the able Michale O'Flaherty music directs), you might be tempted to think that CAROUSEL is a good place to be.
The unhappy characters living in the seafaring community in the production getting a run at the Goodspeed Opera House would disagree with you, however. Billy Bigelow (James Snyder) does a lot of drinking and gambling while working as a barker for the carousel run by the manipulative Mrs. Mullin (Deanne Lorette) who lusts after him. Julie (Teal Wicks) drudges away at the mill with best friend, Carrie (Jenn Gambatese), while dreaming of a better life.
When Billy and Julie meet it's love -- or some kind of overpowering attraction -- at first site and they get married. Both lose their jobs and they move in with Julie's Aunt Nettie (Anne Kanengeiser) who runs a hotel. Carrie marries fisherman Enoch Snow (Jeff Kready) who dreams of expanding his business, and she helps out struggling Julie who stays with Billy, even when he hits her. Billy has a sudden jolt of responsibility when he discovers that Julie is expecting a baby and plans for the future (Snyder ably executes the famous soliloquy).
His scheme to provide for his family isn't too smart, however. He and thug/friend Jigger (Tally Sessions) stalk Julie's former boss, David Bascombe (Jonathan Rayson), to rob him on his way to make a $3,000 deposit at the bank. The plan doesn't go off as expected and Billy kills himself to escape capture. He is transported to a kind of purgatory where a heavenly Starkeeper (Ronn Carroll) gives him a chance to see how Julie and his daughter, Louise (Eloise Kropp), now a teen, are doing down on earth.
It's a bummer of a story -- especially with the wife singing Hammerstein lyrics about how you have to stay with your man even if he's beating you.
Common sense may tell you
That the ending will be sad,
And now's the time to break and run away.
But what's the use of wond'ring
If the ending will be sad?
He's your feller and you love him,
There's nothing more to say.
Something made him the way that he is,
Whether he's false or true,
And something gave him the things that are his,
One of those things is you, so
When he wants your kisses,
You will give them to the lad,
And anywhere he leads you, you will walk.
And anytime he needs you,
You'll go running there like mad.
You're his girl and he's your feller,
And all the rest is talk.
Is that supposed to define love? And was Billy's stabbing himself to escape arrest and leaving his wife and child to fend for themselves an act of love in return? Not by any definition I care to embrace. Eventually, the story focuses on forgiveness and not taking love for granted, but as is the case with many of Hammerstein's musical books, I want to get out a red pen and rewrite (this script is based on Ferenc Molnar's 1909 play Lilliom, adapted into English by Benjamin F. Glazer).
CAROUSEL followed Rodgers and Hammerstein's success with the brighter Oklahoma ,but it feels darker and sadder in mood like Showboat, Hammerstein's earlier collaboration with Jerome Kern, which ironically also features a character named Julie left by her husband.
Goodspeed Director Rob Ruggierio's production of the classic, like the ups and downs experienced while riding a carousel horse (the carousel is wonderfully recreated for the prologue on the restrictive Goodspeed stage), has moments of delight and some disappointments. Let's start with the good stuff: