If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
CHARM OF “CARNIVAL!” IN EVIDENCE AT GOODSPEED
Suitcase in hand and out on her own for the first time, an innocent young waif named Lili stumbles upon a run-down traveling circus and is quickly under the spell of magicians, acrobats and puppeteers. The gorgeously sung, lovingly produced and only occasionally slow revival of “Carnival!” at the Goodspeed Opera House proves a lyrical summer romance and is a perfect fit for the East Haddam theatre.
Based on the 1953 film “Lili” starring Leslie Caron, “Carnival!” was adapted to the stage in 1961 with music and lyrics by Bob Merrill and book by Michael Stewart. Gower Champion was the original director and choreographer for the show which ran for three years on Broadway and produced at least one musical standard, Love Makes the World Go ‘Round. Lili’s heartfelt journey to true love can appeal to the romantic in anyone, but Stewart’s intelligent book also leaves room for adventurous directors to explore some of the dark edges which frame the musical. Happily this is the case at Goodspeed.
Patience may initially be required for some viewers at this “Carnival!”, however. The production, for me, got off to a rather plodding start with scenes that seemed to be paced slower than need be. Lili’s first meeting with the puppets - which comes near the end of an already extended first act - is so carefully and slowly revealed that impatience may set in. There is also a longish dream ballet sequence that, as staged, seems confused as to its intent with a weird cracked mirror sequence that could have been stolen from “Man of La Mancha."
After intermission, however, this “Carnival!” managed to come to significant life exerting a magical spell with powerful performances and first-rate singing. Initially Lauren Worsham’s Lili laid on the virginal innocent act a bit thick, but she relaxed fully by the second act and shares potent chemistry with her leading man, Adam Monley. Mr. Monley is wonderful as an embittered war veteran hiding his true feelings behind puppets. When these two sing together it’s a thrill only found rarely in the musical theatre. To that end all the casting seems right at Goodspeed. As a charismatic magician out to woo Lili, Mike McGowan makes for a splendid, self-absorbed gigolo while Michelle Blakely steals every scene she’s in as his hilarious, long-suffering girlfriend. As the circus ringmaster, Laurent Giroux is all comic bluster.
The clever scenic design by David P. Gordon perfectly captures the seedy glamour of this carnival world and Fabio Toblini’s French flavored costuming is visually appealing. A fine ensemble of multi-talented singers, under the canny direction of Darko Tresnjak, includes expert jugglers, acrobats and clowns. A highlight of this fine production includes the entire company singing an a cappella version of Love Makes the World Go ‘Round at curtain. Bliss.
“Carnival!” continues at the Goodspeed Opera House through September 18. For further information and ticket reservations call 860.873.8668 or visit online at www.goodspeed.org.
Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.