Outstanding Choreography in Carnival! at Goodspeed Opera House

By Amy J. Barry

The Goodspeed has reprised and refreshed the almost 50-year-old love story Carnival! that opened on Broadway in 1961 with music and lyrics by Bob Merrill, book by Michael Stewart.
 
Under the direction of Darko Tresnjak, the plot stays true to the 1953 movie Lili, on which Carnival! is based.
 
Set in the South of France, following World War II, the musical’s heroine, Lili (Lauren Worsham), young, naïve, and recently orphaned, appears at the carnival with suitcase in hand, looking for work. She is manipulated by the charming seducer Marco the Magnificent (Mike McGown) and less easily falls in love with the dark and brooding Paul, the puppeteer (Adam Monley), although it takes no time for the puppets that he hides behind to win her heart.
 
Worsham has a lovely strong soprano voice that is showcased in such numbers as the lighthearted “Love Makes the World Go Round”—the song most identified with the show—and ”Mira,” about a town some of us have found and many of us long for, “Where everyone knew my name,” she sings, “Can you imagine that?”
 
Worsham’s singing feels more natural than her acting. She strains too hard to convince us that she’s the innocent “little mouse” that Marco nicknames her, although in Worsham’s defense, she has the challenge of being cast in the tiresomely dated role of a woman whose destiny is solely determined by the men in her life, not winning points with us feminists in the audience, until she finally sings “I Hate Him,” (about Paul and his mixed messages) with such gusto, we all breath a sigh of relief.
 
Speaking of Paul, Monley, on the otherhand, has a deeper, darker, more complex character to play as the jaded puppeteer who suffered an injury in the war that short-circuited his dancing career, leaving him stuck and resentful in a two-bit traveling circus. Monley’s performance is impressive but his character’s continual anger at the hand he’s been dealt begins to wear thin. His smooth, rich voice stands out in “I’ve Got to Find a Reason” and “She’s My Love.”
 
What’s most exceptional about Goodspeed’s Carnival!—transcending time and place—is the elegant and understated choreography, showcased in the opening number, “Direct from Vienna,” as well in Act One’s “Carnival Ballet,” and in Act Two’s “Cirque de Paris Ballet.”
 
It would be easy to go over the top with flashy dance numbers but instead, the magic of a carnival is created more subtly. Exquisite leotard-donned dancers stretch and leap and hang from trapezes in a nuanced acrobatic ballet choreographed by Peggy Hickey that allows our imaginations to take over, encompassing us in the magic of an old-fashioned circus.
 
A stellar orchestra conducted by Michael O’Flaherty rounds out the pleasing production, though at times the musicians overpower the singers and could use a lighter touch.
 
(box) Carnival! continues at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam through Sept. 18. For tickets and more information, call 860-873-8664 or online visit www.goodspeed.org <http://www.goodspeed.org> .
 
Note: Goodspeed has announced that starting Aug. 18, David Engel replaces Mike McGowan as Marco the Magnificent and Laurent Giroux replaces Michael Kostroff as Schlegel, the circus-master.
 
This review appeared in Shore Publishing Community Newspapers and online Zip06.comAug.25-26, 2010.

 


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