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Music by Richard Rodgers, Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Directed by Ken Page
Choreographed by Yvonne Meyer Hare
Union Avenue Opera
July 28, 2017

Cast of Carousel
Photo: Union Avenue Opera

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel is often considered one of the best musicals of the 20th Century. It’s also a show that I love, even though I had never seen it live before. Now, a somewhat unlikely company has produced it here in STL. I had never seen a show at Union Avenue Opera before either, but now they have ventured into the area of musicals and I’m glad they have, because this production is excellent, especially in the area in which one would expect an opera company to excel–the singing.

Carousel tells the story of the unexpected romance between carousel barker Billy Bigelow (Wes Mason) and textile mill worker Julie Jordan (Maria Lindsey) in a small Maine fishing town. Julie’s friend, Carrie Pipperidge (Christine Amon) takes up with upwardly mobile fisherman Enoch Snow (Anthony Webb), but Julie and the aimless Billy struggle in their new marriage, and when Julie announces she’s expecting a child, Billy is driven to desperation in order to provide, teaming up with disreputable sailor Jigger Craigin (Andrew Wannigman) for a nefarious, risky scheme. When Billy’s plans don’t go as expected, he gets a chance to redeem himself somewhat, in trying to help his confused teenage daughter Louise (Caylee McGlasson, danced by Emma Gassett).  This is a dramatic story with some romantic elements and glimmers of hope, but also with a dark edge and some controversial subject matter along with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s striking, melodic score.

The production here is well-cast, especially in terms of vocals. Mason and Lindsey make a convincing pair as Billy and Julie, with powerful voices and excellent chemistry especially in their celebrated duet “If I Loved You”. Mason does a good job with the difficult role of Billy, whose choices are problematic to say the least, and Lindsey makes a somewhat aloof Julie, which works for the character, especially in the later scenes after the time jump in Act 2. There are also some glorious vocals from Merry Keller as Julie’s cousin Nettie Fowler, who sings the anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and the boistrous “June Is Busting Out All Over” with convincing power. Acting-wise, the standouts are Amon as the loyal and occasionally giddy Carrie, and Webb as her enterprising but sometimes emotionally clueless beau Mr Snow. These two have excellent voices, and marvelous chemistry as well. There are also strong turns from Wannigman as the menacing Jigger, Debby Lennon as Billy’s jealous, possessive employer Mrs. Mullin, and Robert McNichols, Jr. in  three pivotal roles. There’s also some excellent dancing expertly choreographed by Yvonne Meyer Hare, particularly in the ballet sequence danced beautifully by Gasset as “Dance Louise” and the excellent ensemble. There is also, as to be expected, beautiful ensemble singing and a superb orchestra conducted by Scott Schoonover.  It’s a score that tends to the operatic in many instances, and this opera company does it justice.

Technically, the production is a little different than most other modern musical stagings, especially in the area of sound. The individual performers are not mic’d, so sometimes the speaking lines can be difficult to hear, although most of the cast members project their voices well enough. There are also supertitles–designed by Philip Touchette– projected on the wall to help the audience to follow the dialogue and story. The set by Patrick Huber is appropriately detailed and evocative, as are Teresa Doggett’s costumes, although the style seems to suggest a combination of different 20th Century eras rather than the usual Turn of the Century setting. There’s also excellent atmospheric lighting by Huber that helps to create and maintain a stylized, almost otherworldly tone to the proceedings.

Carousel is an ideal first venture into musical theatre for Union Avenue Opera, and I’m glad I was able to see it handled so well and in such a fine, musically stunning production. There’s also something of an air of  the “old-fashioned” here in terms of staging, and I mean that in a good way. It’s an especially strong production and well worth seeing, and hearing.

Christine Amon, Anthony Webb Photo: Union Avenue Opera

Union Avenue Opera is presenting Carousel until August 5, 2017.



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