Humor, Love and the Glorious Melodies Make This Carousel Magnificent

By Bob & Karen Isaacs

As soon as you finish reading this -- or even before -- get to your phone or your computer and order tickets for the Goodspeed Musical's production of Carousel. Though it has already been extended to Sept. 29, we guarantee as the word gets out about this production, tickets will be hard to find.


The Rodgers and Hammerstein classic -- it opened two years after the ground-breaking Oklahoma! -- continued their tradition of gorgeous melodies and heart-felt plot. The song standards that came from this show are numerous and include "You'll Never Walk Alone," "If I Loved You," "June Is Bustin' Out All Over," "What's the Use of Wonderin'," and "When the Children Are Asleep."


The musical is based on the Ferenc Molnar's play, Liliom, about the tragic love between a carnival barker and a maid contrasted with the more stable romance of her best friend. In Carousel, the play is set in Maine but the basic elements of the plot were unchanged. The carnival barker, Billy Bigelow, here played by the dynamic James Snyder, and Julie Jordan, a girl who works at the mill, meet and fall in love before tragedy befalls them. Again, their story is contrasted with that of Carrie Pipperidge, Julie's friend at the mill and her romance and marriage to Enoch Snow, an ambitious fisherman.


Rob Ruggiero, who demonstrated his directorial brilliance with last year's production of Showboat, has shown the same genius directing this production. It starts with the extraordinary casting -- each and every performer is perfect. But it continues with his ability to bring out both the real romance of this story, which can in the wrong hands become both overly sweet and sappily sentimental, with the humor.


We've seen a number of productions of this musical, and never have we seen a better Carrie Pipperidge (the glorious Jenn Gambatese) and Enoch Snow (a solid Jeff Kready). They not only sing magnificently but they avoid the stereotypical depictions of these two characters: too often Snow is overly priggish and Carrie much too silly. This couple is truly in love.


Snyder as Billy also bring a marvelous voice with true acting ability to the role. Is his rendition of the "Soliloquy" the best we've seen? It is hard to rule out John Raitt's original performance, but Snyder is a strong contender. We saw Teal Wicks in the role of Julie Jordan but she has since left the cast and been replaced by Erin Davey, whom we saw as Guinevere in Goodspeed's production of Camelot. Wicks was excellent as Julie and we can only assume that Davey will live up to the rest of the production.


While we cannot mention individually all of the cast, we must mention the fine performances of Deanne Lorette as Mrs. Mullin, Tally Sessions as the villain Jigger, and Anne Kanengeiser as Nettie Fowler.


As Ruggiero stated, he has anchored this production in a very specific period and place and the set by Michael Schweikardt, costumes by Alejo Vietti, lighting by John Lassiter and the other members of the production team have made sure it is carried through in all the elements. You can almost feel the salt air and the smell of the ocean.


Kudos must also go to the choreography of Parker Esse who caused the audience to gasp with his opening number and who managed to make the ballet touching. To top it all off, there is an actual carousel horse on stage, created by a local master carousel carver.


So make sure you see this production of Carousel; it will live with you for a very long time.


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