Thursday, April 14, 2011

Carousel, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Mary Moody Northen Theatre, St. Edward's University, April 7 - 17

Carousel, Mary Moody Northen Theatre

Carousel is a gorgeous thing out of another time. The story is simple. So are the characters, who for the most part good folk of the land, just as in Oklahoma!, the hit just two years earlier by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Carousel is a story of courting, disappointment in marriage between carnival tough Billy Bigelowe and bright-eyed local girl Julie Jordan, a robbery attempt and the bad end of the Bigelowe, then, unexpectedly, a counseling session in the afterlife, giving him a chance to redeem himself.

Carousel opened in New York in April of 1945, as the war in Europe was ending. More than 13 million Americans served in the military and more than 400,000 Americans had died in combat. The nation was ready for some redemption about then, for some celebration and for reunions. Carousel provided some of the theme music -- If I Loved You, June Is Bustin' Out All Over, and that stirring song of consolation for the bereaved, You'll Never Walk Alone.

The Mary Moody Northen Theatre is an engaging and cleverly designed theatre-in-the-square, but the playing space is not immense. Director Michael McKelvey fills it up with that energy-filled cast of twenty, most of them frisky and flirty young characters and actors, playing this story to the accompaniment of the seven-piece orchestra tucked away behind curtains in the high northwest corner of the theatre. They're probably student musicians -- at times, the notes from the horns were wobbling a bit -- but they're live and loud, and the cast sings strong and true.

In this show you get a busy visit to the traveling fair where Bigelowe operates the carousel and flirts with the girls, as well as the imagined carousel itself, imagined, taking up the full stage as the players whirl in a circle to the Carousel Waltz. There's wild frolic as boys and girls tease one another while the month of June is bustin'; more frolic in Act II with A Real Nice Clambake. In both those numbers, opera professional Cara Johnston is aunt Nettie Fowler, joyously keeping them all in line.

The culmination comes as Billy looks on from the afterlife, in a lengthy sequence featuring his 15-year-old daughter Louise, whom he has never seen before. Hannah Marie Fonder plays Louise as a feisty little thing while dancing with the other kids. Then she partners with Kyle Housworth, a boy from the carnival, for an throbbing, exhilarating extended pas de deux that reinforces the message that life goes on, bursting forth in every new generation.

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