Carousel: Reprise, 1/26/10

1 02 2010

Daryl H. Miller’s review of Carousel in the LA Times left me cold.  I saw the first preview performance of Carousel on 1/26; he saw the opening night on 1/27.  Presumably, not that much could have changed in a day.  But did we see the same production?  I wish I had had the time to post my review before Miller, but I suppose my delay gives me the opportunity to critique his critique, one of my favorite pastimes.

While Carousel does not exactly fit Reprise’s original mission to produce rarely-revived classic Broadway musicals, it is a nonetheless welcome revival of a complex, challenging Rodgers and Hammerstein favorite.  As Miller summarizes, “He’s a preening egomaniac who, when life turns a little tough, misdirects his rage at the woman who shares his life. She’s strong enough to understand and forgive the abuse, which seems as misguided as it is admirable.” Amidst tangled relationships and domestic abuse, Carousel touts one of the most marvelous interweavings of book, song, and dance ever created for stage.  From the magnificent opening waltz to the bench scene (featuring one of the most breathtaking subjunctive love songs ever written, “If I Loved You”), this musical showcases Rodgers and Hammerstein at their compositional best, and Reprise’s production embraces and enhances their text.

I want to foreground one of Miller’s largest critiques of the production: while he considers Alexandra Silber to present a “wonderfully honest and direct portrayal of heroine Julie Jordan,” he calls her voice an “acquired taste,” falling “somewhere between opera singer and church-choir lady.”  While her classical style has been de-naturalized by the recent pop/rock influence on musical theater, Alexandra Silber has a stunningly-trained voice that added new depth to the character for me.  In contrast to a flighty high soprano, Silber’s dusky mezzo grounds the role of Julie, making her self-aware as she sacrifices her job for Billy or continues to stand by him despite his abuse.  In tandem with her nuanced acting, Silber’s voice – her speech, song, and even her laughter – transitions seamlessly from a young woman in love, to a young bride enduring more than her fair share of hardship, to a single mother.

Michael Michetti’s direction brings such nuance to every character, even the comic secondary couple of Carrie Pipperidge (Jane Noseworthy) and Enoch Snow (Andy Taylor).  In fact, these characters – and Carousel as a wholeprovide a particularly valuable comparison to Pasadena Playhouse’s production of Camelot, which didn’t provide enough comedic buoyance against its dark book.  Although Carousel is set against a tough working-class existence and grapples with difficult issues like domestic abuse, this production finds wonderful moments of lightness.  Despite a minimalist set, a singing and dancing ensemble lifts the audience into dynamic production numbers as “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over” and “A Real Nice Clambake.”  Lee Martino’s choreography enhances such genuine moments of celebration in this lower-class New England community.  I much preferred the vibrant, ensemble choreography to the more intimate pas de deux of the Act II ballet, which felt long and choppy on the first preview night.  The choreography here could use more fluidity and poetic license, rather than so literally representing the story of Julie’s daughter in almost tableaux-like sketches.

But what of Billy Bigelow, the “linchpin role” according to Miller?  While Robert Patteri is a strong performer and delivers a galvanizing “Soliloquy,” Alexandra Silber exceeds everyone else onstage.  For me, this redirected focus on Julie Jordan is actually a positive.  In fact, it does much to improve a textually problematic ending.  (Is it really possible for someone to hit you hard and it not hurt at all?)  In Act II of this production, Julie’s struggle as a single mother takes center stage, rather than Billy’s redemption.  The ultimate message that “you’ll never walk alone” is reinforced by Michetti’s staging – and doesn’t solely refer to Billy’s continuing presence in Julie’s heart.  The Starkeeper (M. Emmet Walsh, who doubles as the narrator) and community members constantly surround the stage, which becomes a powerful commentary on witnessing, as well as spiritual and community support.  The magnificent 17-piece orchestra is likewise omnipresent onstage, granting a particular power to the sound of music itself as a form of support – a touch that Rodgers and Hammerstein would certainly appreciate.

I look forward to a second viewing this upcoming week!

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2 responses

2 02 2010
Daryl H. Miller

I like the passion of your writing, Sarah. And I enjoyed reading your insights about the musical and about Reprise’s staging of it. Keep up the good work.

2 02 2010
staylorellis

Daryl, thanks for stopping by and commenting! I am always fascinated when two people see the same production and have such contrasting opinions. Your review gave me a great springboard for my own.

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