Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Carousel"

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note: entire contents copyright 2016 by Tony Annicone



"CAROUSEL"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone



The opening musical of Reagle Music Theatre's 48th season is "Carousel" by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Based on Ferenc Molnar's play "Liliom", "Carousel'' takes place between 1873 and 1888 in a small fishing village in New England in Maine. The tale revolves around a love affair between Billy Bigelow, a traveling carnival man, and Julie Jordan, a local factory worker. They end up getting married and after learning he is soon to become a father, Billy kills himself during a botched robbery. Several years later he is allowed to return to earth to redeem himself and help Julie and his daughter recover from the stigma of his death. The original show opened on April 19, 1945 and ran for 890 performances, winning 8 Donaldson Awards and the Drama Critics Circle Award for "Best Musical" of 1945. The 1994 revival won 5 Tony Awards and in 1999, TIME MAGAZINE voted "Carousel" best musical of the century. The 1956 film version starred Gordon McRae and Shirley Jones. Now 61 years later, Reagle's version is as fresh and new as it was back in 1945. Director/choreographer Rachel Bertone casts each role in this show perfectly in this emotionally draining and well written musical. Her cast members sing, act and dance splendidly rising to the high standards producer Bob Eagle has instilled in his productions all these years. Brava on a marvelous must see show of this season. Run do not walk to buy your tickets for this professional and well polished presentation in Waltham, MA.

Rachel's blocking and casting of this show is superb and her choreography is out of the world. The pantomime opening done to the Carousel Waltz with the crowd at the carnival is breath taking and let's the audience know what's happening without any dialogue. She adds many comic touches to the show to keep it light and funny to balance the heartbreak later on. Rachel's phenomenal choreography is seen in Louise's ballet segment on the beach, with the boys and girls doing a carousel dance in it. The cast members' dancing in "June Is Busting Out" and a horn pipe dance during "Blow High, Blow Low" with all the dancers in perfect unison at all times are terrific, too. The dancers are led by Zachary Eisenberg who plays the carnival boy as well as Kyra Christopher who plays Louise in the second. She captures the pathos of the mixed up daughter wonderfully and she dances excellently with some intricate and breath taking moves. The voices in this show are some of the best ones around and musical director Dan Rodriguez elicits the power needed for these numbers by the 49 member cast. He keeps the tempo of most of the numbers upbeat. The 18 member orchestra is fabulous under conductor Jeff Leonard and the strings and harp help set the mood for the many poignant moments. The multitude of gorgeous 19th century costumes are by Costume World Inc. while the numerous set pieces and back drops are by Richard Schreiber. The most outstanding set piece is the real live carousel in the opening scene which wins its own applause when the curtain opens. The production values and standards of this show are of the highest quality and everyone involved should be very proud of this outstanding achievement.

The two leads in this show are multitalented performers who shine in their numbers and with their acting chops, too. The very handsome and debonair Ciaran Sheehan who starred as the Phantom on Broadway in "Phantom of the Opera" is phenomenal as Billy. He has a New York accent in his dialogue and with his vocals he sounds like a young Robert Goulet. Ciaran's baritone voice soars off the charts in "If I Loved You", my favorite R&H song, "The Highest Judge of All", and "Soliloquy." The first is where Billy and Julie refuse to admit they love each other, the second is after he dies and demands to be taken before God to be judged and the last is his outlook on his future son or daughter. Rodgers music can't be beat in this score. Ciaran captures the swagger and charm of this womanizing man with a wanderlust in his soul. Billy finally reforms to help his wife and daughter have hope in their lives to live them to the fullest. His death scene and his scenes with Julie and Louis in the yard and graduation are very poignant and gut wrenching as he helps them cope with their future now that he is gone. Gorgeous brunette Jennifer Ellis is perfect as Julie from her beautiful blue eyes to her porcelain doll face. Her magnificent soprano voice fills the theatre in "You're a Queer One" with Carrie, "If I Loved You" with Billy and "What's the Use of Wondering?" where she explains to the girls you love your man anyway whether he is good or bad. Jennifer makes the transition from young naive girl into older woman with ease. She uses her facial expressions to make you cry when Billy dies and when she picks up the star from the table as Ciaran sings "How I Loved You" in falsetto where he finally admits he loved her. An awesome and well cast pair who deliver the goods from start to finish. Leigh Barrett is the icing on the cake with her spectacular turn as Nettie. She bursts on the scene, welcoming spring to Maine in "June is Busting Out" with her glorious soprano voice which fills the theatre with power and punch. Leigh does a comic turn in "Real Nice Clambake" when she tells about all the food they ate and then tugs on your heartstrings with "You'll Never Walk Alone'' where she comforts Julie after Billy's death, leaving not one dry eye in the theatre. These three powerhouse performers deserved the standing ovation at the close of the show.

Pretty Jessica Kundla is one of the best Carrie's I have ever seen. Her comic antics are on a par with the character of Ado Annie from "Oklahoma", where she steals many a scene. Carrie is Julie's dim bulb friend who is madly in love with a stuffed shirt herring fisherman, Enoch Snow played to the hilt by Dan Prior. Jessica's voice is fantastic in "You're A Queer One" with Julie, "Mister Snow", her solo about Enoch, "When the Children are Asleep", a duet with him. She has a strong, lovely soprano voice while he has a powerful tenor range. Dan Prior as Enoch also sings with Jigger in "Geraniums in the Winder" where he is upset that Carrie was flirting with Jigger. Jessica and Dan get to lighten up the show with their comic antics as does Karen Fanale as Mrs. Mullin, the owner of the carnival who lusts after Billy. She has many one liners and makes them hit pay dirt especially when she insults Jigger. The villain in the show is Jigger played by Todd Yard who oozes oily, smarmy charm when he convinces Billy to rob Bascombe, when he tries to seduce Carrie and when he cheats Billy in a card game. Todd leads the men in "Blow High, Blow Low" and in "Stonecutters Cut it on Stone". Billy's heavenly friends are played by Zaven Ovian and Jared Scott Miller while the star keeper and Dr. Seldon are well played by Rick Sherburne. Kudos to the whole cast and crew on one of the best renditions of this popular classic I have ever seen. So be sure to call up Reagle Music Theatre for your tickets before they are completely sold out. Tell them Tony sent you.

CAROUSEL (7 to 19 June)
Reagle Music Theatre, Robinson Theatre, 617 Lexington Ave, Waltham, MA
1(617)-891-5600 or www.reaglemusictheatre.org




THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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