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This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the June 13, 2001
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Paper Mill Review: `Carousel’
The strains of the seductive "Carousel" waltz
opens the classic musical and underscores the thrills and enticements
of a New England amusement park. A handsome barker beguiles a young,
starry-eyed woman. In no time flat, or at least until they’ve
the rapturous duet "If I Loved You," Julie Jordan and Billy
Bigelow fall in love, and a most wondrous fully operational carousel
appears to send them spinning. Although their love is ill fated, the
opening scene of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s musical is
true to its promise to hold us in its captivating musical arms.
"Carousel" is unrelentingly sentimental, occasionally maudlin,
and even at times corny. But when the 56-year-old operetta is given
its proper due, it can be an uplifting and wonderfully romantic
Except for a lapse in the dance department, the latest Paper Mill
Playhouse production is all of the above and more.
Perhaps Paper Mill’s director Robert Johanson doesn’t go the distance
that British director Nicholas Hytner did when he brought his lauded
revisionist version to the Vivian Beaumont Theater in 1994. But
does Johanson avoid emphasizing the grittier more sardonic aspects
of the story. Sixteen years ago Johanson directed a fine production
of "Carousel" at this theater. This one, for those who
it, and those yet to be impressed, is better.
As originally adapted from Ferenc Molnar’s tragically themed
"Carousel" is still an old-fashioned tearjerker. And it is
eternally exalted by the most gorgeous melodies ever composed on
side of the Milky Way. Don’t be surprised if the shower of stardust
makes you cry or if the sight of a carousel makes your heart thump
a little faster.
What surfaces the most, in this altogether stunning production, are
the attractiveness, balance, and contrast of the four lead performers.
Although usually characterized without a single redeeming trait, the
psychological complexity of the restless carnival barker Billy Bigelow
is apparent in Matt Bogart’s swaggering performance. Bogart, whose
appearances on Broadway include "Aida," "The Civil
and "Miss Saigon," embodies this ne’er-do-well bungler of
life with a wryly amusing stuck-on-himself facade, all the while
to completely cover up Billy’s immature feelings of inferiority. His
voice has a nice pop timbre that is refreshing, and it complements
the famous "Soliloquy" with a contemporary resonance.
Bogart’s voice also contrasts well against the robust baritone voice
of Brandon Jovanovich, who plays the stuffy Enoch Snow. Jovanovich,
who may be the best looking Mr. Snow in memory also helps us remember
what a charming, if understandably neglected, tune is "Geraniums
in the Winder." Glory Crampton’s Julie is not just a wimp, or
a physically abused wife without a spine. We see Julie grow from an
innocent, infatuated young girl into a woman strengthened, but never
hardened by tragedy. If the musical’s constantly reiterated theme
— you always hurt the one you love — is ever present, be
there is no pain in listening to Crampton fill the theater with her
glistening soprano in the plaintive "What’s the Use of
Christiane Noll, who appeared opposite Jovanovich last season at the
Paper Mill in "The Student Prince," is a prize New England
catch, as Julie’s perky friend Carrie. One could almost believe that
"fish is my favorite perfume" when she lovingly sings about
her intended "Mr. Snow." Geralyn Del Corso danced and acted
the role of the ostracized, but spunky, daughter Louise with poignancy
and polish. Marsha Bagwell, as Nettie Fowler, the warmly mannered
ocean-front boarding house proprietor, announces with clarion tones
that "June is Bustin’ Out All Over," and sends the
"You’ll Never Walk Alone" soaring into the rafters. Jeb Brown
is very good as the very bad penny, Jigger Craigin.
Director Robert Johanson has miraculously infused enough joy and
into the story to give us time to smile through the tears. Also,
other revivals, a feeling of nostalgia is never permitted to
what is essentially a delicate fantasy. Here, thanks to a cast who
can act as well as sing and a director with a keen sensitivity, is
a "Carousel" of rare and commendable integrity.
However robust, the ballet sequences by Robert La Fosse, including
the virile "Hornpipe" and the carnival dream sequence, seemed
wanting for originality and freshness of thought. Any new
concept will always be seen in the shadow of "Carousel’s"
original choreographer, the great Agnes de Mille.
I doubt if any star-maker, here played with infinite panache by
Eddie Bracken (who celebrated his 15,000th stage performance on
night), has ever been employed in as breathtaking a galaxy as
by scenic designer Michael Anania.
While I can barely remember the original 1945 production, which
John Raitt and Jan Clayton, I do know that after seeing a half a dozen
or more professional revivals, including those at City Center, Lincoln
Center, Jones Beach, and Paper Mill, this, is one of the best staged
and dramatically moving productions of them all.
— Simon Saltzman
973-376-4343. $37 to $60. Performances through July 15.
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