BWW Review: The Choreography for CAROUSEL ON BROADWAY Doesn't Best de Mille's Original Dances
Justin Peck, the Resident Choreographer of the New York City Ballet, is listed as the choreographer of "Carousel on Broadway", currently playing at the Imperial Theatre in NYC. On the afternoon of April 14th 2018, there was a credit in the Playbill for Agnes de Mille as the choreographer of the original 1945 production. But I'll get back to this issue after I let you know that during the matinee, the drama in the audience rivaled what happened on stage. Not once, but twice, there were frantic shouts of "Emergency!". The cliché "Is there a doctor in the house?" immediately came to mind. Fortunately, there was a doctor. He bounded up from his orchestra seat both times to join theater staffers in tending first to a man in distress who was eventually escorted out in a wheelchair and then to a boy of about 10 or 11 who had been choking. The boy, seated two rows behind me, finally stood up and was able to walk out unaided with his family. The audience gave him an ovation as thunderous as those for cast members, including opera superstar Renée Fleming in the role of Nettie Fowler.
During both emergencies, the curtain came down and the house lights came up while an announcement thanked us for our patience. We chatted quietly with those around us, concerned for the affected patrons' welfare. For me, the bittersweet story line of "Carousel" couldn't have been a more appropriate one to have these on site potential tragedies remind all of us what we need to do when we "walk through a storm".
Ah, but you came here to read my review of the show - in particular the choreography and the dances. As I mentioned earlier, the legendary Agnes de Mille was credited in the Playbill for her original choreography. According to an article by Michael Paulson in The New York Times on March 27th 2018, proponents of de Mille took issue with the fact that she was not credited in the original batch of Playbills so a new batch of Playbills was printed with de Mille's credit included. What mystifies me, though, is that Peck would want to take exclusive credit for the choreography. His works for NYCB up to this point have been notable and even excellent, yet the dances in this production of "Carousel" are nothing special. Whether he realizes it or not, they are de Mille knockoffs with some self-conscious contemporary moments such as en de dans (inward) jazz turns and floaty semi-lyrical movements. Mostly, though, we saw boys partnering girls in a simple lift called tour jeté entournante over and over again. Even the non-dancers seated behind me remarked on this, although they didn't know the terminology. Not only that, but Peck had none other than New York City Ballet's wildly gifted Amar Ramasar in the role of Jigger, yet Peck gave Ramasar not much of anything to do that would display his prowess and larger-than-life stage presence. (An important aside: The cast is commendably diverse, with people of color such as Ramasar as well as other cast members in lead roles and some choristers in the ensemble. No mention was made in the Playbill of the historical inaccuracy of having Billy Bigelow, a person of color, married to a white woman, Julie Jordan, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Bravo!)
Do I recommend seeing this show? Absolutely. The singing is first rate, especially the performances by Joshua Henry, a baritone in the lead role of Billy Bigelow, and the aforementioned stellar soprano, Fleming. My applause for surprisingly good vocal prowess even goes to Ramasar and the other ballet-dancers-turned-warblers.
Also superb are the sets, including the top of a carousel that flies down and unfolds, although a full carousel rather than one little pony on stage right would have been even better. I get it that Peck wanted the dancers to move freely under the carousel canopy, but l still would have liked to see a carousel. Regional companies have pulled that off with great success. Peck's dancers were only holding hands in a circle and doing a few elementary steps to move the circle around beneath the carousel canopy. Again, nothing special in this choreography.
On another note, pun intended, kudos to the live musical ensemble under the baton of Andy Einhorn. Hurry on over to the Imperial Theatre, 249 West 45th Street, to catch this show - but also Google "Agnes de Mille Carousel" on YouTube if you want to see why I've said what I said about the choreography.
Photo by Julieta Cervantes