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Review: CAROUSEL, London Coliseum

The English National Opera (ENO) have been criticised in recent times for their staging of musicals. The past two years have seen the company - whose home is the London Coliseum - score huge successes with their adaptations of Sweeney Todd and Sunset Boulevard (the latter of which featured Hollywood icon Glenn Close), and in a recent interview with The Stage, producer Michael Linnit claimed the ENO "would not survive" were it not for the revenue generated by putting on more commercial musicals in the venue.

With that in mind, the semi-staging of Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical Carousel - starring two heavyweights of the classical singing world in Alfie Boe and Katherine Jenkins - has a lot to live up to. The musical, which was the writing partnership's second Broadway hit show and purportedly their favourite, boasts possibly one of the most beautiful overtures ever written for theatre, and with the 40-piece ENO orchestra under the baton of David Charles Abell, is performed to its full and glorious potential.

But the music is where this show is at its strongest, with Lonny Price's production failing to add any depth to a musical that could be better described as semi-acted rather than as semi-staged.

The tale of young love, remorse and a chance at retribution fields a complex character at its centre in the bullish Billy Bigelow (Boe), who falls for the sweet Julie Jordan (Jenkins), but their relationship is doomed from the very beginning.

Boe never gets to grips with the deep-rooted anger within Bigelow (for which we are given reason by Price in a flashback sequence) and only really lets go when he's singing solo. Vocally stunning, it's all a bit too much Rodgers and not enough Hammerstein, with a stiff demeanour throughout and not enough emotion given to the powerful lyrics.

Jenkins, on the other hand does a good, if not a bit too polished job in her stage debut as the wide-eyed Julie. Verging on operetta, the traditional vibrato singing seems a little out of place in the modern West End, with many of the theatregoing public having to retune their ears as they are more used to a soprano's belting rather than massaging the refrains, but within this setting, Jenkins's luxurious voice works well.

It's when the ENO chorus is on stage that the action is really ramped up however, with a fulsome sound from the ensemble and some visually impressive dance sequences, choreographed by Josh Rhodes.

Scenes are played out in front of some attractive projections, and although the movable pieces of set are simple, the stage feels no less stark than in many fully staged works.

It's within the characterisations that the production becomes more concert and less theatrical performance, and save for Gavin Spokes, who grinds some real comedy out of his rendering of Mr Snow, the portrayals are far too superficial.

There is definitely a place for traditional musical theatre both in the West End and at the London Coliseum, but this production sadly fails to make a good case for it. This show would have been better presented as either a concert or fully staged version, as in its current model, it doesn't quite fulfil either brief.

Carousel at London Coliseum until 13 May

Photo by Tristram Kenton

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