- CHARITY BENEFIT
T2c frequently enjoys bringing our readers theater and cabaret reviews outside the City during the summer months.
Reviewed by Joe Regan Jr. – August 4, 2012
Goodspeed Opera House, in East Haddam, Connecticut was built in 1876 by William H. Goodspeed. It was restored as a theatre in 1963 and since that time has presented many long forgotten musicals and original musicals including several that have transferred to Broadway (Man of La Mancha, the revivals of Oh! Kay!, The Most Happy Fellow, Take Me Along). In its history, it has presented only one other Rodgers & Hammerstein show, a revised Allegro in 1968. One would not think that Carousel, one of their most serious musicals, would suit Goodspeed’s small stage or please their summer audiences.
It begins with the full stage carousel on stage as the stunning “Carousel Waltz” is played and the major characters are introduced. But the director, Rob Ruggiero, the choreographer, Parker Esse, and the design team of scene designer, Michael Schweikardt, lighting designer, John Lasiter, and costume designer, Alejo Vietti, have worked miracles. The curtain rises on a mime of Julie Jordan, Carrie Pipperidge, and the other factory girls sewing in rhythm to the familiar waltz. Then we see one jewel encrusted carousel horse dead center stage and several screen panels which reverse and show female chorus members in horse poses as they revolve around Billy Bigelow, the barker, and his carousel. There is a projected scrim of the Maine sea shore horizon which subtly changes color during the scenes.
Carousel has been cast with legitimate singers with strong acting talent. At first, James Snyder, who played the lead in Broadway’s Cry Baby, seems an unusual choice for the character created so memorably by John Raitt and played by Gordon McRae in the movie. Snyder is lean, wears a beard, and seems a darker Billy than his predecessors. Snyder is, however, very sexy in his darkness, and totally erases any doubts about his characterization. His stunningly dramatic “Soliloquy,” with great vocal shadings and emotional breaks, establishes him as a major leading man. Julie, at the performance I saw, was sung and acted beautifully by Teal Wicks. She is leaving the production for the new production of Jekyll & Hyde and will be replaced by Erin Duffy who did a magnificent Magnolia at Goodspeed last year. Wicks and Snyder are tenderly believable in their “If I Loved You” duet. Operatic star Anne Kanengeiser plays Julie’s aunt, who sings the dramatic “You’ll Never Walk Alone” in the first act, as well as leading the company in a rousing “June is Bustin’ Out All Over’ and “A Real Nice Clambake.” Carrie is played by Jenn Gambatese, who gets all her laughs. Her Enoch Snow is Jeff Kready and again it is a strong performance, his duets with Gambatese are sweet and moving.
Other strong members of the cast who give fully dimensional performances are Tally Sessions as Jigger, Deanne Lorette, the owner of the carousel who loves Billy, and veteran Broadway actor Ronn Carroll who plays the Starkeeper and Dr. Seldon, the speaker at the graduation.
When the dead Billy gets a chance to come back to earth, he chooses a day when his daughter Louise is fifteen. Louise is acted and danced by Eloise Kropp who has just completed her sophomore year at the Musical Theatre Program at the University of Oklahoma. The role that made a star out of Bambi Linn is superbly acted, sung and danced by Kropp. The ballet of the Snow family snubbing her and Louise finding herself attracted to rougher types (like her father) is choreographed by Esse in a hard sexual way and Vietti has costumed the bad boys in leather harnesses and skintight leggings with prominent codpieces and makes the climax of the ballet scorching in its heat.
Despite how many times I have seen productions of Carousel, Snyder and Kropp’s performances of their scene together when he tries to do one good thing for her and ends up striking her brought tears to my eyes. Then there is the famous scene between Julie and Louise when Julie tells her that, yes, it is possible for someone to strike you and to not feel it at all, more like a kiss than a blow. That scene is the climax of the musical’s source Liliom but it is followed in Carousel with a graduation scene when Louise is awarded a special honor and Dr. Seldon leads all in a reprise of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” The production and the cast and the orchestra received a long standing ovation.
Carousel continues at the Goodspeed Opera House, 7 Main Street, East Haddam, Connecticut through September 29th. Performances are Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings, with performances on Saturday at 3 pm and 8 pm and on Sunday at 2 pm and 5:30 pm. Tickets can be purchased on line at www.goodspeed.org or ordered by phone at (860) 873-8668.