Broadway Review: “Carousel” at the Imperial Theatre

Broadway Review: “Carousel” at the Imperial Theatre (Open Run)
Music by Richard Rogers
Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Directed by Jack O’Brien
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The beloved Rogers and Hammerstein “Carousel” has not often been revived on the Broadway stage since it first opened to critical acclaim in 1945, so this third incarnation, after a long hiatus since the highly successful production at Lincoln Center in 1994, will be welcomed by audiences who savor the familiar lavish score. Theater aficionados will be delighted by the superb vocals that illuminate such favorites as “If I Loved You,” “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over,” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” along with the new sumptuous orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick. Although the score is still heralded as one of the best among the classic musicals of its era, the book is quite complex and does not withstand the test of time.

The musical revolves around the complicated love story between Billy Bigelow, a disreputable carousel barker, and Julie Jordan, a young innocent but venturesome local mill worker. It takes place in the state of Maine at the turn of the twentieth century. The egregious relationship is hardly the fairy-tale romance: it is laden with anger, deception and abuse, themes that do not translate well to the present socio-political atmosphere. The second act is heavy-handed, dealing with the themes of afterlife and redemption, crossing the borderline to the sanctimonious, putting the brakes on any momentum established in the plot previously. It also contains the laborious “Ballet,” appearing near the close of the show, originally choreographed by Agnes de Mille, fashioned after her similar ground breaking, successful scene in “Oklahoma.”

Joshua Henry portrays a formidable Billy delivering his wrenching “Soliloquy” with accurate poise and conviction, accompanied by vocal prowess. Jessie Mueller creates a less convincing, reserved Julie and although vocally accomplished, lacks character stability. What becomes most problematic is the absence of chemistry between the couple. The incomparable Renee Fleming establishes a solid and sagacious Nettie Fowler, deftly conquering the prominent “You’ll Never Walk Alone” with her clear tonal quality and sincere delivery. Lindsay Mendez provides essential comic relief as best friend Carrie Pipperidge and her betrothed Enoch Snow, enthusiastically inhabited by Alexander Gemignani with a big, bold and beautiful vocal, stealing his every scene.

Choreographer Justin Peck executes excellent dance sequences that only elevate the dark and stilted storyline. Director Jack O’Brien manages to move the plot along at an ever-slow pace and does not ennoble character development in order to embrace current moral judgement. The result is a mixed bag, but certainly worth a visit if enthralled by classic musicals that have become a part of theater history.