“Carnival,” Goodspeed Musicals

--Irene Backalenick

 “Carnival,” now at Goodspeed Musicals, is for the very young and very old—and (to quote a cliché) for the young at heart. Director Darko Tresnjak has turned this particular production into a veritable circus on Goodspeed’s pocket-sized stage, complete with balloons, aerial stunts and magic acts.

Yet, though this musical has its strong story and its enchanting moments, it never captures the emotional clout of the original 1953 film. Recalling Leslie Caron and Mel Ferrar in “Lili,” this (or any “Carnival”) falls short. Why does it happen so frequently that understated little films can deliver that clout while the subsequent musical versions cannot? What happens during the
transformation?

In any event, it must be noted that “Lili,” the film, went on to become “Carnival”--and a long-running Broadway hit in 1961, garnering its share of Tony nominations and awards. And now this “Carnival,” with its strengths and weaknesses, takes its place among Goodspeed offerings.

On the plus side for this version are Robert Smythe’s magical puppets, as well as Peggy Hickey’s choreography, Joshua Dean’s aerial choreography, and the ensemble work of the whole talented company. As to performers, lead actors deliver the punch, with Lauren Worsham creating an appealingly naïve Lili, Adam Monley coming on as a strong, touching Paul, and Nathan Klau providing solid support as Paul’s crony.

On the minus side are the songs themselves. Except for the memorable “Love Makes the World Go ‘Round,” Bob Merrill’s music and lyrics never reach the heights of Broadway’s most memorable musical moments. Nor do the singers do justice to the songs they have. While Worsham is right in character as Lili, she is far less satisfying musically—particularly in the upper range of her pieces.

But most importantly, “Carnival” has a strong story line, even in the watered-down musical version. Lili is a gullible little orphan who comes to the carnival seeking work. She promptly falls in love with Marco the Magnificent and his magician’s bag of tricks. But along the way, she connects with the puppets of Paul, the embittered puppeteer, little realizing that the puppets are Paul himself. It takes time (through two acts and 20 songs) to realize that Marco is all fraud, and that her own true love turns out to be Paul.

In short, this “Carnival” is pleasant if not earth-shaking entertainment—and worth the effort. But, in addition, try to see “Lili” the film once more.

This also appears in the Connecticut Post and on www.nytheaterscene.com

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