Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Carousel"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2005 by Tony Annicone


Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The second show of Reagle Players 37th season 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 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 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 Tonys and in 1999, TIME MAGAZINE voted "Carousel" the best musical of the century. The 1956 movie version starred Gordon McRae as Billy and Shirley Jones as Julie. Nearly 50 years later Reagle Players' version stars Shirley Jones as Nettie Fowler. Director Robert Eagle casts each role perfectly in this very emotionally moving and well written musical. His cast members sing, act and dance splendidly rising to the high standard set by veteran actress, Shirley Jones. Bravo on a fabulous must see show. Run do not walk to get your ticket for this professional and well polished presentation in Waltham, MA.

Bob's casting and blocking of this huge show is right on the money, too. The pantomime opening segment done to the Carousel Waltz with the crowd at the carnival is breath taking and lets you know what is happening without any dialogue.The voices in this show are some of the best ones around and music director, Karen Gahagan elicits the power needed for this numbers from the cast. The orchestra is topnotch and the strings and harp help to set the mood for the many poignant moments in the show. Gemze deLappe recreates Agnes DeMille's original choreography which includes the ballet segment of Louise on the beach, the boys and girls dancing in "June is Busting Out" and a horn pipe dance to "Blow High, Blow Low" with all dancers in perfect unison at all times. The dancers are lead by Victor Wisehart who plays the boatswain and the carnival boy and by Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck who plays Hannah in the first act and 15 year old Louise in the second. (She captures the pathos of the mixed up daughter wonderfully and she and Victor dance superbly in both acts with some breathtaking and intricate moves.) The multitude of gorgeous 19th century costumes are by David Loveless, Costume World Inc. and the numerous backdrops and set pieces are by Matt Rudman and Richard Schreiber. The most outstanding set piece is the real live carousel in the opening scene which wins its own applause as the curtain is opened. Bob and his staff keep the production values high and make this a show to be very proud of.

The two leads in this show are multitalented performers who shine in their numbers. The handsome and debonair Nat Chandler'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 when he dies and demands to be judged by the Lord and the last is his outlook on his future son and daughter. Rodgers music in these numbers can't be beat. Nat also gives strength to his acting scenes and captures the swagger and charm of 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. Gorgeous blond haired Sarah Pfisterer is perfect 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) Sarah makes the transition from young naive girl into older wiser woman with ease and she just use her facial expression to make you cry when she finds the star Billy left on the table while he sings the reprise of "If I Loved You" where he finally admits he loves her. An awesome and well cast pair of performers who deliver the goods from start to finish. Shirley Jones is the icing on the cake with her spectacular turn as Nettie. She bursts on the scene, welcoming spring 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. Shirley also tugs at your heartstrings with "You'll Never Walk Alone" where she comforts Julie after Billy's death. These three powerhouse performers truly deserved the standing ovation at the close of the show and the Waltham audience is very glad Rodgers and Hammerstein discovered Shirley Jones all those years ago.

Kristen Watson 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 Nathan Troup. Kristen gets to sing "Mister Snow" and the duet "When the Children Are Asleep" with Nathan. She has a lovely soprano voice while Nathan has a strong Irish tenor voice. ( The kids who play the Snow children do a wonderful dance segment in the ballet and Jake Aaron as Enoch Jr. has a comic argument scene with Louise where he gets walloped by her.) Kristen and Nathan get to lighten up the show with their comic antics as does Cheryl McMahon as the owner of the Carnival who lusts after Billy. Her strong acting comes through as she argues with Julie, Carrie, Billy and Jigger, shooting off her one liners and insults at a quick pace, leaving the audience in stitches. The villain in this show, Jigger is played Victor Warren. He oozes his oily, slick charm when he convinces Billy to commit a robbery, when he tries to seduce Carrie and when he cheats Billy at cards. Victor leads the men in the "Blow High, Blow Low'' song and in "Stonecutters Cut it on Stone". Billy's heavenly friend is played by Roy Earley who brings him to the starkeeper and brings him back to earth to visit his family and the starkeeper and principal are played by Harold Walker with a perfect Maine accent. A word of praise for the entire cast on a superior production. So for one of the best renditions of a classic musical, be sure to catch "Carousel'' at Reagle Theatre, you will be glad you did. Tell them Tony sent you.

"Carousel" (11 - 20 July)
Robinson Theatre, 617 Lexington Street, WALTHAM

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide