"CAROUSEL" REVIVED AT GOODSPEED

By Tom Holehan

Director Rob Ruggiero has done something quite magical and fresh with his revival of "Carousel" at Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam. Rodgers & Hammerstein's classic proves as timeless as ever in the hands of the talented Ruggiero, who previously brought new life to Goodspeed's "Camelot" and "Annie Get Your Gun." This current revival is really something special. 

 

The doomed romance between carousel barker Billy Bigelow and factory worker Julie Jordan is set against a Maine backdrop where the working class spends its days trying to make ends meet and find true love. To this end, the long-suffering Julie is the only one who seems to truly understand the angry young man that is Billy Bigelow. He is the character who takes this dark story down a tragic path only to be redeemed in a spiritual coda that never fails to move its audience to tears.

 

An outstanding company of actors marks this admirable revival, beginning with its leads, Teal Wicks and James Snyder as Julie and Billy. Miss Wicks is especially good at making sure Julie never comes off as a victim in what is, essentially, domestic abuse from Billy. Wicks successfully demonstrates the steel spine beneath the warm humanity and delicacy of her character.

 

Mr. Snyder is everything you could want in a Billy. Strong, charismatic, troubled, vulnerable and always believable. His bravura singing of the classic (and difficult) "Soliloquy" at the close of act one nearly stops the show cold. I also admired the time and care that Ruggiero allows Wicks and Snyder for their rendition of one of the musical's finest songs, "If I Loved You".

 

The supporting cast is equally strong with Jenn Gambatese and Jeff Kready merely terrific, stealing scenes and hearts as the counterpoint couple to Julie and Billy, Carrie Pipperidege and Enoch Snow. Gambatese and Kready are sheer delights, canoodling over the lyrics in "When the Children are Asleep" and bring a sexy exuberance to all their scenes together. I also admired Tally Sessions' original take on the musical's villain, Jigger Craigin, by bringing some unexpected humor to the role. A refreshing hyper-masculinity is also evident in the male chorus numbers, especially in the rousing "Blow High, Blow Low".

 

Parker Esse's robust choreography shines throughout and Michael O'Flaherty's musical direction is top-notch. The rough-hewn scenery designed by Michael Schweikardt and working-class costuming by Alejo Vietti complete the picture at Goodspeed with style. This is a very fine revival of what is arguably Rodgers & Hammerstein's greatest musical.

 

“Carousel" has been extended at Goodspeed through September 29. For further information and ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at 860.873.8668 or visit: www.goodspeed.org.

 

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

 

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