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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 20, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 08
Carousel is a great ride
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Carousel is a great ride

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

CAROUSEL
THE 5TH AVENUE THEATRE
Through March 1


Carousel is one of the classic Rodgers' and Hammerstein musicals and the second show they collaborated on. The musical tells a story of love, determination, passion and redemption. Currently playing at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre, this production does what The 5th Avenue Theatre does best; presents a glorious rendition of a show from the former Golden Age of Theatre.

The storyline is a bit dark for the collaborative team that later wrote 'Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens' [a lyric in their song 'My Favorite Things' from The Sound of Music], but the team actually cut their teeth on grittier terms in the early part of their career. Set in New England at the early part of the last century, the story revolves around a set of star-crossed lovers, Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow. Julie is a quiet girl who catches the eye of a charming but licentious carousel barker, while taking a ride with her friend Carrie Pipperidge. Both Julie and Billy are dismissed from their jobs because of their improper behavior with one another, but neither minds because, despite the cavernous differences in culture, personality and background, the two fall in love and get married. Billy drinks more than looks for work and in the heat of an argument hits Julie. When Julie reveals she is pregnant, Billy's excitement turns to concerns about providing for them. Feeling trapped by circumstance, he decides on a shady, quick money scheme (with a friend of his) and pays the ultimate price. In the Afterlife Billy is confronted with his life's actions and when he is denied entrance into The Gates, he takes the one chance of going back to Earth to try and make amends.

The 5th Avenue Theatre excels in every way when producing classic musicals of the Golden Age. Carousel is definitely not an exception. The casting is a large one and the leads are done very well. Laura Griffith plays the ingénue Julie with a strong presence. She portrays the girl's innocence without making her a victim in the least. Julie accepts her love even though she knows it's not the best decision, and Ms. Griffith portrays her exceedingly well. The singing voice surpasses and rings out with the purity that is required to sing some of the best-loved music for the theater. 5th Avenue veteran Brandon O'Neill portrays Billy Bigelow. The role is a difficult one to play but is given perhaps one of the best male 'Diva' numbers in theater - 'Soliloquy.' Mr. O'Neill's voice wraps around the song and delivers it with clarity and power. The song is challenging in many ways as it has to convey a subtle transformation from brutish pride to gentle realization, and Mr. O'Neill meets the challenge full on. The role of Carrie Pipperidge, played by the incomparable Billie Wildrick, is considered a 'supporting role' but could easily be the dominating figure, and that's just the way the musical is written. Ms. Wildrick brings a strong enthusiasm and wonderful voice to the 'best-friend' role, showing concern for Julie and simultaneously showing the delight in finding her own romantic happiness. The supporting cast all add wonderfully to this production, with stand out roles going to Anne Allgood (Nettie Fowler), Cynthia Jones (Mrs. Mullin), Joshua Downs (Enoch Snow), and Eric Ankrim (Jigger), and an impressive team of ballet dancers for the several, elaborate dance scenes that Rodgers and Hammerstein like to include in their works. This is a large cast and everyone does a great job.

Carousel first opened on Broadway on April 19, 1945 and remained there for over a year. The second production by Rodgers and Hammerstein, the musical brought criticism because of the darker subject matter included in the storyline. The rich score and powerful, updated-revised story line, from the original source, a 1909 play titled Liliom by Ferenc Molnár proved to be enough to counter the darker undertone of domestic violence and love's triumph. The 1956 film starred Shirley Jones, Gordon MacRae and Cameron Mitchell. Although revived on Broadway three other times, it was the 1994 Lincoln Center production that brought out a more modernistic feel to the classic. The Lincoln Center production cast included Audra McDonald, Taye Diggs (Broadway debut) and Brian d'Arcy James. Although the show first opened before the Tony Awards were established, the 1994 Lincoln Center production earned 5 Tony Award wins including Best Revival and Best Featured Actress (Audra McDonald) in a Musical.

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