Goodspeed Cannot Pull a Rabbit out of This Hat.

By Roz Friedman

Carnival! a 1961 musical based mainly on the film “Lili,” is a very dark awkward  fairy tale clothed in modern dress. I had never seen the original, which consists of Bob Merrill’s Music and Lyrics, Michael Stewart’s Book, based on material by Helen Deutsch with Revisions by Francine Pascal, Michael Stewart’s sister. 

Despite the huge efforts of Goodspeed, the superior talents of main characters, Adam Monley, who plays Paul, the crippled puppeteer, and Lauren Worhsam as Lili, the orphaned girl looking for a home—they both have magnificent singing voices- Mike McGowan as Marco, full of himself as the magnificent magician, and Michelle Blakely as Rosalie, his assistant,  numerous acrobats, dancers and singers all directed by Darko Tresnjak, costumed colorfully by Fabio Toblini on David  P. Gordon’s high flung set lit by John Lasiter, with Puppet Design & Staging by Robert Smythe and Magic Consultant Mark Kalin,  this musical struggles mightily to overcome an improbable and negative story line.

To refresh your memory- Anna Maria Alberghetti won a Tony for her role as Lili on Broadway; everyone fell in love with Leslie Caron in the film, which was a more romanticized, a more light-hearted version of the story. (Both of these actresses are in their 70’s and still going strong.) And here’s going back awhile. The original story written by Paul Gallico can be traced back to a classic TV show, Bill Tillstrom’s “Kukla, Fran and Ollie,” which ran ten years from 1947.

In a nutshell, everything takes place in The South of France after WWII. A naïf young Lilli, carrying only a battered suitcase and a special watch, arrives at a circus looking for the manager, a friend of her recently-deceased father. Sadly, he has died, too. She tries to help the concession guy, is mesmerized by the wolf, Marco, when he pulls a cigarette from behind her ear, but gets into all kinds of trouble until she starts working with the puppets, particularly Carrot Top.  While these figures are fairly cute, the scenes with them are slow-moving and stop the pace of the show cold. Paul, the puppeteer had been a dancer, but, having been injured in the war, is very bitter, and takes it out on Lili and his assistant, Jacqout, played well by Nathan Klau.  It is not until the last lines of the play that Lili and Paul confess their unlikely love for each other, a little too long to wait.              

There is only one song of the serviceable twenty that rings a bell: “Love Makes the World Go ‘Round.” CARNIVAL! will play through September  13 at Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam.

This review originally aired on WMNR 88.1 FM FINE ARTS PUBLIC RADIO


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