Turtle Lane's second production is Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Carousel". Based on Ferenc Molnar's play "Liliom", "Carousel" takes place between 1873 and 1888 in a small New England fishing village in Maine. The tale revolves around a Billy Bigelow, a carnival man, and Julie Jordan, a local factory worker. They end up getting married and after learning he is to become a father, Billy kills himself after a botched robbery. Several years later he is allowed to return to earth for a short time to redeem himself and help his daughter and Julie 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" the best musical of the century. The 1956 movie version starred Gordon McRae and Shirley Jones as Billy and Julie. Director Russell Greene casts each role beautifully in this very emotionally moving and well written musical.
Russell's casting and blocking of this show is right on the money. I last reviewed Russell as a director in last year's fall show, "Into the Woods. The pantomime opening segment done to the Carousel Waltz with the crowd at the carnival, the girls at the factory and the starkeeper's area stage left lets the audience know what is happening in Maine. The carnival section is breath taking with professional magician, Derek Raposo (he also dances wonderfully as the cad, carnival barker on the beach with Louise) doing some excellent magic tricks. The scene lets you know what is happening without any dialogue. The voices in this show are some of the best ones around and music director Wayne Ward, elicits the power needed from the cast for these numbers. He not only musically directs the show but plays piano and conducts his five piece orchestra. They are topnotch, helping to set the mood for many poignant moments in the show. Choreographer Christopher Hird creates many dances including the ballet segment of Louise on the beach, the boys and girls dancing in "June is Busting Out" and a hornpipe dance to "Blow High, Blow Low" with all dancers in perfect unison at all times. He is the artistic coordinator of Boston Ballet School and has "The Nutcracker" opening there soon. The ballet segment is fantastic with Gillian Gordon, doing topnotch dancing and she is also an astounding actress who elicts tears from the audience in her scene with Billy. The multitude of gorgeous 19th century costumes are by Richard Itczak with the sets and lighting by John MacKenzie and sound by Alex Savitzky. The scenery is painted by his wife, Michelle Boll, the scenic artist with some outstanding slides of the Maine seashore with a lighthouse on it as well as a beach scene. Stage manager James Tallach keeps things running smoothly all night long with the scene changes and scenery with the horses for the carousel, moving on and off stage with ease.
The two leads in this show are multitalented performers who shine in their numbers. The handsome and debonair Nicholas Howe's strong baritone voice is splendid and soars off the charts in "If I Loved You" (my favorite R&H song) "The Highest Judge of All" and "The Soliloquy". The first is where Billy and Julie refuse to admit their love for each other, the second is after he dies and demands to be judged by the Lord and the last one is his outlook on his future son or daughter. The latter one stops the show with its intensity. At the end of Act 1 he threatens the audience with a knife to emphasize that he will be taking care of his child. Rodgers music in these numbers can't be beat. Nicholas also gives strength to his acting scenes, capturing the swagger and charm of a womanizing, man with a wanderlust in his soul who finally reforms to help his wife and daughter have hope to live their lives to their fullest. His death scene and his scenes with Louise and Julie in the yard and at graduation are very touching and moving as he helps them cope with their future now that he is gone. Russell's staging of the graduation scene has Nicholas center stage, Gillian on stage right and Julianne stage left all in a spotlights while they sing "Never Walk Alone" with the chorus, which makes the audience cry harder than ever. (Christopher also has Nicholas show off his dancing skills in the hornpipe dance in Act 1) Gorgeous blond haired Julianne Richards is splendid as Julie. Her magnificent soprano voice fills the theatre with "If I Loved You" and "What's the Use of Wondering'' where she says it doesn't matter whether your man is good or bad you will love him anyway. Julianne makes the transition from naive girl into older wiser woman with ease and she just uses her facial expression to make you cry when she finds the star that Billy left on the bench while he sings the tear jerking reprise of "If I Loved You" where he finally admits he loves her. She admits her love for Billy during his death scene and starts to sing "Never Walk Alone" until she breaks down in tears. An awesome and well cast pair of performers who deliver the goods from the start to the end of the show.
Margaret McCarty does a spectacular job as Nettie. She bursts on the scene, to welcome summer to Maine with the exuberant "June Is Busting Out" with her glorious soprano voice and does a comic turn in "A Real Nice Clambake" where she tells about all the food everyone consumed at the picnic. Margaret also tugs at your heartstrings with "You'll Never Walk Alone" where she comforts Julie after Billy's death. Heather Karwowski, a statuesque brunette, does a great job as Carrie, Julie's not too bright friend who loves a stuffed shirt herring fisherman, Enoch Snow played to the hilt by Craig McKerley. Heather gets to sing "Mister Snow", during the reprise of the song, she shows off her dancing skills with the girls while she sings the duet "When the Children Are Asleep" with Craig. She has a lovely soprano voice while Craig has a strong Irish tenor voice. He sings the mournful "Geraniums in the Window" when he thinks Carrie has cheated on him with Jigger. They get to lighten up the show with their comic antics as does Kara Dunne as Mrs. Mullen. She is the owner of the Carnival who lusts after Billy and she argues with Julie,Carrie, Billy and Jigger, shooting off insults at a quick pace. Kara also plays the second heavenly friend in the second act.The villain of the show Jigger is played by Ryan Garvin. He oozes his oily, slick charm when he convinces Billy to commit the robbery, tries to kiss Carrie and then he cheats Billy at cards. Ryan leads the men in "Blow High, Blow Low" and "Stonecutters Cut it on Stone". The dancers are lead by Gillian Gordon as Louise who captures the pathos of the mixed up daughter wonderfully. Joshua Hamilton plays the Starkeeper and Mr. Bascombe with a perfect Maine accent, Gabriel Fries is the first heavenly friend who guides Billy back to earth and Evan O'Connor plays the snooty Enoch Snow Jr.. Kudos to everyone who make this a fantastic show. So for an excellent rendition of a classical musical, be sure to catch "Carousel" at Turtle Lane Playhouse.