A Spectacular Merry-Go-Round at Goodspeed
By Marlene S. Gaylinn
“Carnival,” which is being revived at Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, dates back to a short story by Paul Gallico. The author was fascinated by the children’s TV program, “Kukla, Fran and Ollie” -- particularly actress Fran Allison, who interacted between the world of puppets and reality. Elements from Gallico’s tale about a poor, orphan girl who joins the circus and finds love through a puppeteer, developed into the sentimental film, “Lili.” It featured ballet dancer, Leslie Caron. The musical “Carnival,” with music and lyrics by Bob Merrill and book by Michael Steward, is based on this delightful film.
Like an endless merry-go-round, Goodspeed’s dizzy production of “Carnival” goes up and down and round and round at such a loud and frantic pace, it’s a wonder that the clowns and overhead performers don’t tumble into the audience. The show’s bright colors and dissonant music actually scream at you. In one dark, dreamlike scene, reminiscent of the ballet film, “The Red Shoes,” the bewildered audience suddenly becomes lost in a fascinating, fantasy of dancers and fun house mirrors. This certainly fulfills the chaotic intent of choreographer, Peggy Hickey; however, there is not much preparation to indicate a change from the usual circus fair. The message that our heroine’s mind is now playing tricks, is therefore muddled. Throughout the show, the hypnotized audience is so bombarded with circus display (an artificial realm in itself) it cannot perceive any difference in the levels of reality. One is reminded of folks afflicted with attention deficit disorder. There is so much going on at once, that a welcome feeling of relief ensues when the mish-mash finally concludes.
Under the direction of Darko Tresnjak, the simple essence of romance and wonder seems to be undermined by grand spectacle. Never the less, the strong, singing and acting talents of wide-eyed Lauren Worsham as Lili, the wonderful voice and stage command of Adam Monley as the Puppeteer, and Mike McGowan’s sly interpretation of Marco The Magnificent, rises above the maze of gloss and glitter. The show also features lots of lively dancing, circus feats and singing -- although the only song you will probably remember is “Love Makes the World Go Round.” It is repeated so often during the performance that you will hear it over and over after you leave the theatre.
While this production has clowns and puppets, it is not geared for young children.
Plays through September 13. Box Office: 860-873-8668
This review appears in “On Connecticut Theatre” August/2010