Carousel

Music by Richard Rogerscarousel-callout

Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

Based on Ferenc Molnair’s play Liliam

Conductor David Chase

Directed and Choreographed by Bob Ashford

At the Lyric Opera of Chicago

Stunning, world class production of Carousel is a near perfect artistic success

Carousel is based on Ferenc Molnair’s play Liliam, which Molnair turned down Puccini’s attempt to make into an opera as well as requests from Kurt Weill, but once he saw Oklahoma, he quickly allowed Rodgers and Hammerstein to make a musical of Liliam.  The result was the 1945 Carousel. This is Rodgers’ most operatic work with a lush score that contains several waltzes, cute ensemble tunes, and one of the most emotional anthems ever penned for the stage. This beloved musical is one of my all-time favorites and I must report that the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production is the finest I’ve seen to date. The creatives have utilizes the assets of the Lyric including sets (by Paolo Ventura), costumes (by Catherine Zuber) as well as wonderful chorus work (Chorus master Michael Black) together with the inspired conducting by David Chase made this production as near perfect as possible.

Carousel Rehearsal09_Denyce_Graves_Company_CAROUSEL_LYR150407_1194_cTodd_Rosenberg

Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics are in terrific the mouths of the leads. Steven Pasquale plays and sings Billy Bigelow with the machismo and rich baritone to give Billy the necessary swagger. His chemistry with Laura Osnes’ Julie Jordan was effective. They present the well-known pre-love song. “If I Loved You” with a believability that fuels this romantic tragedy. Jenn Gambatese, as Carrie and Matthew Hydzik make up the couple as the Snows. Gambatese sweet voice and Hydzik’s tenor soar.

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Carousel is story about a stoic mill worker and her abusive husband. Rogers & Hammerstein moved the story to a New England fishing village and presented it with many of their greatest songs. I was struck again by the depths of Richard Rogers’ music. “The Carousel Waltz “is a visually stunning opening that sets the mood and catapults into the fishing village.

Carousel Rehearsal

This musical is fast-paced with a seamless line between dialogue and singing as it plays like an operetta.  With outstanding ensemble show stoppers like “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over,” “Blow High, Blow Low.” we see and hear fine ensemble and chorus singing that is breath-taking.  Besides the powerful “Carousel Waltz, ” Richard Rodgers has presents another sweet waltz, “A Real Nice Clambake” proving that Strauss wasn’t the only composer to create rich waltzes.  Rob Ashford’s choreography was cute and innovative, especially in the sea-shanty “Blow High, Blow Low” that found the sailors forming boats with their bodies evoking sea movements.

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We see Billy as a flawed yet human guy and Julie as the tolerant wife he stands by her man despite his abusive streak. Contrast with Enoch and Carrie Snow as the ambitious life-planning couple working for their share of the American Dream.

When Billy learns that Julie is with child, he ponders about is child in the moving song “Soliloquy.” Steven Pasquale nails that difficult tune with power and emotional befitting a scared father-to-be. Once his ill-fated robbery leads to his self-inflected death,  Julie’s friend Nettie (Denyce Graves) soars to the heavens by singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

28_Abigail_Simon_Martin_Harvey_Charlotte_d'Amboise_Steven_Pasquale_CAROUSEL_LYR150407_1660_cTodd_Rosenberg

“The Ballet” featuring Louise (Abigail Simon) and Carnival Boy (Martin Harvey) (pas de deux) was inspiring and  beautifully staged and danced. This 2 hour and 57 minute  lush and true to the original production is the finest production of Carousel I’ve witnessed yet! In the hands of the asset-rich Lyric Opera of Chicago , we can see grand versions of classic Broadway musicals, Over the last few years, Showboat, Oklahoma, and The Sound of Music were mounted in fabulous manner. Now, Carousel tops them all.

I left Carousel realizing that I just witnessed the greatness of Rogers & Hammerstein and the beauty of musical theatre itself.  It was gratifying to see groups of high school students, dressed to the nine’s attending Carousel. I’m sure they were impressed with this show. They saw a world-class production of the show that Time Magazine called “The greatest musical of the 20th Century.” This Lyric Opera production takes its place as one of the most perfect productions of a beloved musical seen on a Chicago stage! Take the whole family to experience the high art of Carousel.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Jeff Recommended

At the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Civic Opera House, 20 N, Wacker Dr., Chicago, IL, call 312-827-5600, tickets $47 -$159, www.lyricopera.org/carousel, running time is 2 hours, 57 minutes with intermission.