Carousel -- Magical -- at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam

By Rosalind Friedman

Forgive me if I express paroxysms of joy;bnafter seeing Carousel at the Goodspeed Opera House, I have no choice. Rob Rugguiero is the master of musicals. His direction of the productions at this East Haddam white castle, 1776, Big River, Camelot, Annie Get Your Gun, and Show Boat, have been immensely interesting and beautiful. They have earned him four major awards from the Connecticut Critics. (His choice and direction of dramas like Looped and High are not on the same high level.)


Rodgers and Hammerstein’s magnificent collaborations will never be matched again. They combine musical acumen, poetry and philosophy, and the highest sense of humanity in a very simple but elegant form. While Oklahoma!, their first success together in 1943, was playing to sold out houses at the St. James Theatre on Broadway, they were asked to adapt Molnar's play, “Liliom” into a musical. They moved the setting from Hungary to Maine and found John Raitt, who became the perennial Billy Bigelow. We saw this fabulous performer in his debut on Broadway and many years later at Oakdale, when he was far too old to play the role of the sexy carousel barker; he was still fabulous. When Carousel opened in 1945, it won many awards. The Tony was not yet established.


Rob Ruggiero has worked magic on this small stage by using one wonderful carousel horse and panels that slide and revolve while horses are projected in the background. Much to his credit, he has found a superb Billie Bigelow. Handsome James Snyder, who appeared as the lead on Broadway in the short-lived John Waters musical, Cry-Baby, has a powerful, but warm voice. And you need one in this show. He has to be tough, conflicted, and yet sympathetic. The scrumptiously emotional score from “If I Loved You” to “You'll Never Walk Alone,” is demanding enough, but Billy's famous “Soliloquy” that ends the first act is the test. Snyder not only sings it well-but he acts it out with the strength and understanding that he is becoming a father and with that comes responsibility.


The cast is excellent: James Snyder's co-star, Teal Wicks, brings a tart sweetness to the role of Julie Jordan, who falls in love with Billie and suffers the consequences; Julie's best friend, Carrie is played brilliantly by perky Jenn Gambatese; Jeff Kready is a charming Enoch Snow; Anne Kanengeiser lends a good sense of maturity as Nettie; Deanne Lorette is a convincing Mrs. Mullin, jealous and vengeful; Eloise Kropp is lovely as Julie's daughter Louise and performs the Ballet with a special sense of timing and space. Only a Junior in the Musical Theatre Program at the University of Oklahoma, she has a great career ahead of her. Ronn Carroll is delicious both as the Starkeeper and Dr. Seldon, whose speech should be given at every school in the U.S. If there is one small disappointment it is Jigger. Tally Sessions accents the comedy of the part and should be more sinister.


Michael Schweikardt's rustic set, lit by John Lasiter with country costumes by Alejo Vietti are all perfect. Parker Esse's Choreography is delightful; let us pause to remember Agnes De Mille, who created the original dances: courageous for their time -- (and Bambi Linn, the ballet dancer, who lived for years in Westport.)


(This review originally aired on WMNR Fine Arts Radio)

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