A Family Affair!

By Rosalind Friedman

I recently was very impressed by a production of Rodger and Hammerstein’s Carousel produced by The Summer Theatre of New Canaan. It plays only through August 6 and caters to the community, so it is a fun night out for the entire family. The shows are presented by the Libonati family in Waveny Park under a tent with comfortable chairs provided. Ed Libonati is the Executive Producer; his wife, Melody, is the Artistic Director; his son, Christian, who usually acts in the shows, is the General Manager, here, and his daughter, Allegra is the Director.

Carousel is one of my very favorite musicals. The score is miraculous: 14 numbers; each one a gem! The story based on Liliom, a 1909 Molnar play, dealing with good and evil and redemption is a true tearjerker. I first saw it performed on Broadway when I was a child, and slavishly followed charming John Raitt, who established the role of rebellious young Billy Bigelow. It was the age where stars became associated with leading roles. Raitt was a handsome man and had a voice as big as the whole outdoors. Of course, he aged through the years, but so gracefully that the last time we saw him in the role was about 30 years ago at Oakdale Music Theatre in Wallingford. He was far too old for the part, but still wonderful, meeting the challenges with a deep understanding of this complex character. (Father of Bonnie; passed away in 2005 at 88).

In this production, before the show begins, the director establishes a welcoming atmosphere. With the orchestra providing music, the distinct sounds of a carousel in the background, we are in a New England amusement park with all the magicians and clowns and fortune tellers swirling around, interacting with the audience and bringing the children in the audience on stage. When the play starts we meet two young woman who work in the local mill: Julie Jordan, played with great sensitivity and a silvery soprano voice by Jazmin Gorsline, seems the more timid. As it turns out, despite the abuse she undergoes, she shows remarkable strength. Her friend, Carrie Pipperidge a part Lauren Lukacek imbues with over-theā€“top spirit, has just become engaged to a fisherman and sings about it in the adorable “Mr. Snow.” Acted with energy, William Hartery is Enoch, the man of Carrie’s dreams, even if he smells of fish.

Rough and tumble Billy Bigelow, whose womanizing reputation precedes him, meets the girls, flirts with Julie while sending Carrie away. Billy and Julie establish their romance in “If I Loved You.” Because Billy and Julie get married, he loses his job with the carousel run by Mrs. Mullin, a floozy well-played by Emilie Roberts. Billy is ready to leave Julie, but when she announces she is pregnant, he stays and desperate, decides to follow his friend, “Jigger (Adam Bashain),” into a life of crime. Christian Cardozo has big shoes to fill. He has the beginnings of what could someday be a very good Billy. He has a strong voice and a nice smile when he remembers to use it; he did an excellent job on the centerpiece of the show, “Soliloquy,” the 20 minute song that imagines what kind of a father he will be and what kind of a child he will have. However, his acting and singing needs more nuance and phrasing.

Joan Mitchell Carlo as Nettie Fowler, the cheerleader for all the women in the cast, displays a fantastic voice as large as her sparkling eyes, and great diction in “June is Bustin’ Out All Over,” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Lou Orsone is convincing as David Bascome, the owner of the mill; Brian Silliman a fine Starkeeper/ Policeman and Dr.Seldon. Doug Shankman’s Choreography shines, as do his dancers; Set Design by Charles Pavarini II, particularly the carousel, is clever; Devon Allen’s lighting and Sarita Fellows’ many costumes are very effective.

Carousel has some tragic moments with the death of Billy, but rebounds with his salvation, when he learns to deal with his anger for the sake of his daughter, Louise (Sandra Ross).

Remember, Summer Theatre of New Cannaan-- it plays only at Waveny Park through August 6.


(This review originally aired on WMNR Fine Arts Radio)

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