"Carousel" has long been one of my favorite Rogers and Hammerstein musical. When I learned that Reagle Music Theatre would open their 2016 season with this show, I was thrilled. When I found out that Elliot Norton and IRNE Award winner Jennifer Ellis would play the role of Julie Jordan, the opening date became a red letter day in my scheduling calendar. She has been paired with the powerful voice and acting skills of Ciaran Sheehan in the role of Billy Bigelow. That pairing and many other aspects of this production make it one that you will not want to miss.
Let's begin by talking about Ms. Ellis. In creating her own version of textile mill worker, Julie Jordan, she has taken the warp of courage and resilience and woven those threads with the woof of vulnerability to fashion a character whose fabric is strong and beautiful - and high in thread count! She and Mr. Sheehan showed their strengths early in the show with the arresting "If I Loved You." Her rendition of "What's The Use of Wond'rin" is another heartbreaking aspect of her memorable performance.
Mr. Sheehan comes to Waltham with an impressive Broadway resume, including "Les Miserables" and "The Phantom of the Opera." As an actor and singer, he makes choices that present rough-hewn carousel barker, Billy Bigelow, as more than just a one dimensional angry wife beater. (It is the courageous and explicit addressing of domestic violence that guarantees "Carousel" its place in the history of musical theater.) We see his pugnacious side quite readily, but he also shows us his softer side in the iconic "Soliloquy" in which he imagines what it would be like to be the father of a little Billy - or, just imagine, a "little girl, pink and white." It is the delivery of this song that separates the men from the boys in terms of actors who portray a convincing Billy Bigelow. Mr. Sheehan shows himself to be a man among men with this number.
|Jennifer Ellis as Julie Jordan|
Ciaran Sheehan as Billy Bigelow
Reagle Music Theatre
Through June 19th
photo by Herb Philpott
These two leads are wonderfully supported by an impressive cast of secondary characters and ensemble of actors, singers and dancers. Among the standouts are the following:
- As Julie Jordan's best friend and co-worker, Carrie Pipperidge, Jessica Kundla is perfect. She paints a lustrous picture of life married to a herring fisherman with her rendition of "Mister Snow." What a gorgeous voice!
- A highlight of any performance of "Carousel" are the two versions of "You'll Never Walk Alone" - sung first as a solo by Nettie Fowler, Julie's cousin, and then as the Finale at the graduation of Louise, Julie and Billy's daughter. It is one of my favorite songs of all time, and I have high expectations for this number and for the actress who will endeavor to sing it. Leigh Barrett blows it out of the water! Hers is one of the best interpretations of this song I have ever heard.
- Kyra Christopher is a student at Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. Her dancing in the dream "Ballet" had the audience applauding wildly. It was a tour de force.
- As Mr. Enoch Snow, Carrie's beloved, Dan Prior appropriately is redolent of both herring and rectitude. His touching duet with Carrie, "When The Children Are Asleep" is another highlight of this production.
- Jigger Craigin is Billy Bigelow's friend, a whaler who entices Billy to solve his money troubles in a quick and dirty way. Todd Yard presents him as a scheming and no-account scoundrel. He shines, along with his fellow whalers, in the number "Blow High, Blow Low."
- Mrs. Mullin, the faded tart who owns the carousel and is in love with Billy, is played very convincingly by Karen Fanale.
- Rick Sherburne plays the celestial Starkeeper, as well as Dr. Seldon, who is the graduation speaker whose simple eloquence triggers the ensemble reprise of "You'll Never Walk Alone."