I have to say , I understand Neil's point here but I do have a quibble
with his comparison to some of the junk thrown on stage at the Met.
I think his point is that this Carousel was well cast and well directed;
but more than that was alive with everyone CARING about what they were
doing. And this type of performance is tremendously exciting.
My quibble is that it's not entirely fair to compare this to the Met
presentations, only because I truly believe that there are a lot
more actresses that can pull off Julie Jordan than ,say, Manon.
Still I do agree much of what is done on the opera stages is done
by all concerned parties in a state of sleepwalking; not much to
provide a spark of excitement.
But isn't Carousel a wonderful piece? I only saw it myself about 7
years ago, a production brought to NY from the English Royal National
Theatre. All the other R&H shows I've always thought were too sugar-sweet
for words but Carousel was wonderful and moving. It's the only R&H
show that I would willingly go to.
On Fri, 3 Aug 2001 03:28:15 -0400, NIEL RISHOI <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>This evening I returned - exhilarated I must say - from a day-long
excursion to Wooster, Ohio, where I attended a matinee performance of
Rodgers and Hammerstein's CAROUSEL.
>Ohio Light Opera is one of the mainstays of summertime theater-going in
Ohio. It is a true repertory company, where several shows are presented
repeatedly, interchangeably from the middle of June, onto the middle of
August. Everything from Gilbert and Sullivan, to operetta, and Broadway is
presented. It bills itself as the "Resident Professional Company of The
College of Wooster." And this being my first time in the partaking of this
company, I can attest to the fact that there is nothing "Light" about the
level of professionalism and talent that I witnessed here.
>The performance I saw today was undoubtedly one of the finest musical
theater performances in recent memory.
>Quite simply, not only did everything "work", but all the components came
together in a most cohesive manner, and it emerged as a superior theatrical
experience. So often, musical theater of this nature fails to come
together, sadly because most of the artists are usually not up to the task,
and the direction fails dismally to bring a given piece to life. It is
such a fallacy to think that Rodgers and Hammerstein and their kind can be
performed by just any amateur group, enthusiastically hoping for optimal
results, but the truth is, the casting considerations must be at least on
the same level - yes - of any serious opera. For Musical Theater is no
less serious in its intentions than any Verdi or Mozart piece. I'm sure
there are those who will (excuse me, with a degree of snobbery) disagree,
but I happen to respect the musical theater epoch with, admittedly, the
utmost reverence: I love the genre.
>The performance I saw today was actually more enjoyable, more competent -
truth to tell - than some of the godawful Met broadcasts I heard this past
season. Tucked away in this Midwest town were blessedly enthusiastic,
energetic, talented artists desiring to be honest, sincere performers
wishing to hone their craft - and they succeeded, in the proverbial spades,
I must say. I'm increasingly enjoying companies such as these, and those
like the Met less every year. What I saw today restored my faith, that I
can still enjoy, with a kind of contented satisfaction, a good honest piece
>Amazingly enough, the score was presented entirely uncut, perhaps my only
cavil. "Geraniums in the Winder" is, along with THE SOUND OF MUSIC's "An
Ordinary Couple" the most banal and trite of songs. Not all of the music
in CAROUSEL is of the highest quality, and it is to the credit of all those
concerned that the proceedings did not lag or became tiresome.
>Credit must be first given due to the direction of Sarah McGraw, which was
innovative, fluidly balletic, theatrical yet somehow very believably
natural, and which abetted the action beautifully.
>McGraw knew when to keep the chorus still, when to have them "react", and
when to have them add some liveliness to the crowd scenes. The blocking
was tight, tableaus set in a picturesque and imaginative fashion, and there
was a sense of how to show the artists to their best advantage. Most of
all, McGraw achieved a feeling of real intimacy in how the characters
interacted with one another; the actors were made to LOOK at each other,
made to REACT to - and this is important - the other characters rather than
to the audience. In short, McGraw created the most incredible ensemble
spirit I've seen in a long time. As well, the work of the chorus, and the
solo dancers was all outstanding. There was nary a truly weak link anywhere.
>Another felicitious touch was the spare, simple but remarkably creative
sets of Richard Traubner. These sets relied on the telling use of props,
painted backdrops, as well as some startling special effects in the heaven
and dream sequences - these were aided by the lighting designer, Jen
Groseth. No expense was spared for Jeffrey Meek's costumes: they were
quality tailored designs and fabrics, and it showed. Such an expense
cannot be underestimated, because it gave the actors the right "moves" and
attitudes for their characterizations.
>The two leads were outstanding - incomparable really. Julie Wright is
about as near perfect a Julie Jordan as one could wish for. Although
operatically trained, Wright displayed an absolute affinity for the
stylistic peculiarities of Rodgers' music, her clear, steady soprano
confidently handling the songs. She was the very essence of lyrical
wonderment in "If I Loved You," and sang a poignant, haunting rendition
of "What's The Use of Wondrin' " Blessed with true stage presence (her
huge, expressive eyes are a considerable asset), Wright achieved a superb
balance of touching, girlish sincerity, unusual depth, independence of
spirit, courageous dignity, along with that of troubled anguish, as her
character realizes the disturbing realization of her husband's
instability. Most of all, Wright suggested an inner fortitude that is all
too rare in characters of this type. Julie Jordan is an extremely difficult
role to cast, because most ingenue-type actresses/singers do not have the
depth to portray such a multi-faceted character. Wright was, plainly,
luxury casting indeed - a born singing-actress.
>Just as believable was Ted Christopher's Billy Bigelow. Christopher, an
energetic, physically charged actor, created a vivid portrait of the
troubled young man, presenting Billy as, by turns, high strung, self-
doubting, angry, stubborn, disturbingly unpredictable, and yet somehow all
too human. The actor did not try to make his character overly sympathetic,
thereby making Billy all the more real - an unstintingly honest portrayal.
In Billy's demanding songs, Christopher phrased with true distinction and
feeling, and like Wright, put over superbly the great arching crest of
melody in "If I Loved You," really luxuriating in the drawing out of the
aria-like line. He had the appropriate swagger, insouciance and giddy high
spirits for the "Soliloquy" number; as well, Christopher really conveyed
the angry frustration of the climactic closing phrases. Though his voice
carried well in the theater, Christopher's voice production is just a mite
too far back in the throat; the highest notes lacked some focus and ping,
but that did not at all detract from his instinctive, sensitive
>Where Wright and Christopher really outdid themselves as a team, however,
was in Billy's death scene.
>These two brought an unspeakable, unbearable poignancy as Julie holds
Billy's hand and comforts him in the last few moments of his life. The
tension they created absolutely gripped the audience: rarely have I ever
felt such a mass response such as this. Wright and Christopher
accomplished something that happens all too rarely in musical theater: they
touched depths of true tragedy - it hit home and stung, painful and deep.
I've been to performances of the most despairingly tragic operas, but left
afterward without even a flicker of emotion registering in me, and the
performers leaving no mark whatsoever. Today I saw two consummate artists
achieve the rare and the sublime - they rattled an audience to the
foundations. Equally fine was the overwhelmingly moving closing scene, in
which Billy, satisfied that he has done something meaningful at last,
ascends to heaven via a brightly lit staircase, surrounded by seraphic
figures. Described such, it sounds laughably mawkish, but actually, it had
a strangely poignant power, enhanced by the soaring refrain of "You'll
Never Walk Alone." I confess to having a shameless slop-sensibility for
this kind of stuff...
>Megan Loomis's Carrie Pipperidge was just right - not too goofy and ditzy,
but actually quite lovable in her daffiness. Most comic leads can come
across as terribly annoying and cutesy till you want to slap them, but
Loomis displayed a keen sense of understatement while still providing some
laughs - such a balance is again all too rare, and I was thankful for the
opportunity to see an ideal example carried (no pun intended I swear) out.
Anthony Maida, though he sang well as Enoch Snow, could have shown a little
more backbone in the characterization.
>Ann Marie Wilcox seemed to me awfully young for Nettie Fowler, and was
slightly unconvincing as the jokey-sexy Marina Matriarch. However, Wilcox
made up for any drawbacks by her superb singing of "You'll Never Walk
Alone," as she takes over the melody from the grief-stricken Julie. Not
only was this potentially hokey number phrased with exquisite sensitivity,
but I was completely taken aback by the power of Wilcox's voice at this
point, which just poured out in reams of sound and projected out into the
theater effortlessly. It set the seal on the whole scene, which by
combined efforts reached heights of tragic sublimity.
>David Wannen portrayed Jigger Craigin, and I had a difficult time
believing him as a scummy no-account. Tall, elegant and appropriately
attired in a P coat, he nonethless looked unmistakeably dapper, like a
Milan runway model. As it turned out, Wannen was much more believable - at
home really - as the romantic figure in the dream sequence dance of Louise
>The overall high level of this whole performance was a rather delightful
surprise, and in the end I was pleased that it garnered a standing ovation,
which was one of the rare times it was really deserved.