by Irene Backalenick
Goodspeed Musicals remains true to its mandate -- that is, to lovingly restore the old-time musicals. It is strange to think that the musicals of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II would fall into that category. But in fact “Carousel” is now more than half a century old, having burst upon the Broadway stage in 1945, succeeding the team’s ground-breaking “Oklahoma.” So, indeed, why not play host to “Carousel?”
Though Rodgers/Hammerstein shows invariably follow a happily-ever-after format, the team was hard put to give this dark tale a happy ending. Based on the play ”Liliom” by Ferenc Molnar, “Carousel” depicts the tragic love story of Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow -- she a naive young mill worker and he a swaggering carousel barker. It all takes place in a small Maine fishing village in the late 1800s (rather than Molnar’s Budapest of 1919). This mismatched couple fall in love, resulting in job losses for both. To compound their problems Julie becomes pregnant, and Billy desperately strives for money, legally or otherwise. Though the show heads for a dark ending, the writers offer up a deus ex machina finale, which makes everything ok -- sort of. God -- or some one like God -- comes to the rescue.
But never mind the book (also Hammerstein’s creation). It is the glorious tunes matched by its lines, which are irresistible. How can we not succumb to “If I Loved You,” “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over,” “When I Marry Mister Snow” and the numerous other memorable tunes?
As to this Goodspeed production, the show is alive and fresh, despite its venerable years. Director Rob Ruggiero’s staging is highly innovative, though he remains true to the musical arrangements. (Why fix something when it’s not broken?) Ruggiero has a gift for creating superb company numbers, despite the limitations of the small Goodspeed stage. Every company number, with song, dance, and movement, is rousing. All four leads have fine voices -- James Snyder as Billy, Teal Wicks as Julie, and, in the comic roles, Jenn Gambatese as Carrie and Jeff Kready as Mr. Snow. But the latter two create much stronger characters, while Snyder and Wicks fade by comparison. The appealing Gambatese is never out of character, and Kready creates a delicious oaf. Yet Snyder comes into his own when he offers up his famous singing “Soliloquy,” his thoughts on fatherhood. (Wicks, leaving for a new assignment, is about to be replaced by Erin Davie, and it remains to be seen whether the change makes for an improvement in that role.)
All told, this “Carousel” offers a memorable experience, whether for old-timers revisiting a classic or a new generation about to be indoctrinated.
This review also appears on nytheaterscene.com