Music by Richard Rodgers. Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hamerstein II. At: Light Opera Works at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson, Evanston. Phone: 847-869-6300 ; $32-92 ( ages 21 and younger, half price ) . Runs through: Aug. 29
Legendary U.S. songwriters Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II regard Carousel as their favorite collaboration. It was only their second, after Oklahoma! changed the face of American theatre forever just two years before. In 1945, Carousel became the first musical tragedy and consequently the show is considered the duo's most operatic work.
This is good for more traditionalist theatergoers, but those who prefer the more comedic, catchier and family-friendly Rodgers and Hammerstein repertoire will quickly realize there's a lot to like but only so much to love about Carousel, a drama full of socioeconomic issues that lead to some questionable ideas about domestic abuse. And honestly, that's the only thing working against Light Opera Works' talent-loaded production.
From the very first curtain revealing the carousel and the silent prologue set to the music of the "The Carousel Waltz," the high-end production values are abundantly clear. The costumes are vibrant, the set though rigid is detailed and the lighting is spectacular. In fact, Andrew Meyers' lighting design is hands down the best aspect of the production. The beautiful sunsets on the cyclorama and the smoky teal of the show's dark climactic scene have a tremendous impact on the mood of the show.
After the excellently choreographed prologue, the cast steps up and proves why the money used to dress the production was warranted. Not a single bador even averagevoice can be picked out. Leads Cooper David Grodin ( Billy Bigelow ) and Natalie Ford ( Julie Jordan ) fit the operatic style of the music wonderfully. If anything negative, the casting was a bit more focused on vocal quality than on physicality.
Director and choreographer Stacey Flaster does just basic blocking for the intimate numbers such as the gorgeous harp-filled classic "If I Loved You" and the endearing "When the Children Are Asleep." This rightfully keeps the focus on the music, but also reminds us of Carousel's tendency to drag at times and drift away from the central and tension-ridden love story. Sometimes it feels like Billy and Julie aren't the most important characters in the show.
In fact, Julie's best friend, Carrie ( Elizabeth Lanza ) , has more songs and considering she's in a much more pleasant, abuse-free relationship, the musical is almost more likable when she's being featured. It also helps that her husband-to-be, the red-cheeked fisherman Mr. Enoch Snow ( George Keating ) is the closest thing the show has to comic relief other than the second act opener "A Real Nice Clambake," which wasn't necessarily supposed to be funny.
But in spite of Carousel's flaws, Light Opera's production finds moments of great strength be it the lighting or Flaster's stunningly choreographed "Louise's Ballet," which acts as the saving grace of the final four scenes.
There's no denying Carousel's status as a classic; there are some beautiful musical moments in a truly American story about dreaming big, making love work, being ashamed of financial failure and hoping that children grow up to surpass the mistakes of their parents. Light Opera honors that about as well as any company could by casting top-notch singers and optimizing all the technical elements. For musical-theater traditionalists and those looking to cross this show off their Rodgers and Hammerstein lists, Light Opera Works' production will be hard to beat.