note: entire contents copyright 2016 by Sheila Barth
There’s nothing finer than starting the summer theater season with a Rodgers and Hammerstein large-scale,panoramic musical, and Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s stirring production of “Carousel” capitalizes on it, capturing theatregoers’ hearts.
Producing Artistic Director Robert Eagle has spared no expense in this exquisitely executed almost three-hour show, starring Broadway sensation Ciaran Sheehan and Boston’s award-winning charmer, Jennifer Ellis. Together, the couple emanate charming bad boy-sweet, innocent girl chemistry.
Portraying down Maine, dewy-eyed mill worker, Julie Jordan, Ellis’ lovely soprano rises above the fabulous orchestra, while playfully flirting with Coney Island tough guy, Billy Bigelow, singing “If I Loved You”. Portraying Bigelow, Sheehan’s voice soars, his swaggering demeanor spot-on. The couple’s duet of classic hit, “If I Loved You” is divine.
Director-choreographer Rachel Bertone and Co. have recreated the imaginary beauty of a horseless carousel, a rollicking seaside clambake, stunning fantasy scenes, and an interim pre-celestial stop among the stars, outside the pearly gates of heaven.
Bertone adheres to the original choreography of legendary Agnes De Mille, from an exuberant, rollicking clambake ensemble number to her staging of second-act, lyrically lovely, balletic scene, simply titled “Louise’s Ballet,” featuring Kyra Christopher as Julie and Billy’s 15-year-old daughter. Although Louise frolics on the beach,alone, then with street boys, her buoyant mood changes to loneliness, rejection, when she encounters a mesmerizing carny barker, evil-looking performers,and his devastating seductive lure.
Christopher, who completed her junior year at CCM, is exquisite, her youthful angst a jarring image of innocence,as she’s entranced by this bizarre entourage.
With designer Richard Schreiber’s stunning scrims, sets and props, and Reagle’s Costume World Theatrical’s late 1873-1888 period costumes, this production adheres closely to the 1956 movie, starring Shirley Jones and Gordon MacCrae, filmed primarily in Boothbay Harbor, Camden and Augusta, Maine.
Based on Ferenc (nee Neumann) Molnar’s 1909 drama, “Liliom,” adapted by Benjamin Glazer, appearing on stage as a musical in 1945, “Carousel” is the sad story of Maine smalltown, pretty, mill worker, Julie Jordan, who falls in love,at first sight, with carousel barker Billy Bigelow and marries him. In contrast, Julie’s naive best friend, Carrie Pipperidge, (charming Boston Conservatory senior Jessica Kundla) meets and marries Maine’s stuffy, determined-to-become-seafood king, Enoch Snow (self-righteously portrayed by Dan Prior).
Unable to find work for months, frustrated Billy drinks and beats Julie, never hurting her and never able to express his love for her. But when she tells him she’s pregnant, his heart softens. He hooks up with criminal sailor Jigger Craigin, who convinces Billy to rob mill owner Mr. Bascombe (Stephen Rourke) at knifepoint, during the annual clambake’s treasure hunt.
Todd Yard is a despicable, conniving cad as Jigger. When he tries to seduce Carrie during the clambake, Jigger’s surface “charm” dissipates, his blackguard intent more evident. He’s reminiscent of the Big Bad Bear luring Little Red Riding Hood.
When Billy is caught by police during his botched robbery, he commits suicide. In Act II, 15 years later, Billy is given one day to return to Earth and redeem himself by doing one act of kindness - namely, to help troubled daughter Louise during her graduation. He also telepathically lets Julie know he, indeed, loved her.
Leigh Barrett delivers her usual outstanding performance, portraying Julie’s kindly Cousin Nettie. Her beautiful soprano voice soars above the large ensemble’s robust version of, “June is Bustin‘ Out All Over,” and her heart-rending, dramatically powerful solo, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” while comforting grieving Julie, is heart-rending.
Be prepared. It’s a tear-jerker.