Corrections or additions?

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

completed

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

experience.

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

neither

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

remember

it, and those yet to be impressed, is better.

As originally adapted from Ferenc Molnar’s tragically themed

"Liliom,"

"Carousel" is still an old-fashioned tearjerker. And it is

eternally exalted by the most gorgeous melodies ever composed on

either

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

War,"

and "Miss Saigon," embodies this ne’er-do-well bungler of

life with a wryly amusing stuck-on-himself facade, all the while

unable

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

assured

there is no pain in listening to Crampton fill the theater with her

glistening soprano in the plaintive "What’s the Use of

Wond’ring?"

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

inspirational

"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

jubilance

into the story to give us time to smile through the tears. Also,

unlike

other revivals, a feeling of nostalgia is never permitted to

overshadow

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

choreographic

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

86-year-old

Eddie Bracken (who celebrated his 15,000th stage performance on

opening

night), has ever been employed in as breathtaking a galaxy as

provided

by scenic designer Michael Anania.

While I can barely remember the original 1945 production, which

starred

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

Carousel, Paper Mill Playhouse, Brookside Drive, Millburn,

973-376-4343. $37 to $60. Performances through July 15.

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