Revivals of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel are infrequent indeed. And this production, directed by Jack O’Brien, is a brilliant reimagining of the classic, boasting such memorable songs as “June is Bustin’ Out All Over,” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” That they are performed here to a full orchestra is also rare.
Still, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s popular lyrics give license to more probing concerns. Take the lyric, “That was a real nice clambake. We all had a real good time.” Listening to it now, one senses the artificiality it depicts, as well as its endearing truthfulness.
It’s an odd paradox, and one which expresses the sanguine spirit at the heart of this musical. Designed by Santo Loquasto, the set, with its painted sea and skyscapes, reiterates that sense of artifice.
With the casting of Tony-nominated Joshua Henry in the central role of Billy Bigelow, this story about morality, law, and social class, connects all too clearly to the history of racism in our country.
Billy himself is a study in contradictions. On one hand, he’s cocky and charismatic, loving and loyal, and on another, he’s a harmful, cruel, man who can’t deal with other people. It’s a role in which Henry (The Scottsboro Boys) is most dynamic — in voice, as well as in his physical presence.
Julie Jordan, the mellifluous, Tony Award-winning Jesse Mueller (Beautiful), is the girl at the heart of it all. As is her wont, Mueller is simple and vulnerable as the mill worker who falls head over heels for Billy. When Billy loses his job, she loses hers. And when poverty and pregnancy converge, Billy becomes bitter and abusive.
Based on Ferenc Molnar’s play, Liliom, the tale about a rough and tumble carnival barker who captures the eye of an innocent young woman, but loses his life to crime, reads like many a naturalistic novel. After Billy’s downfall, however, the story turns to a dialogue from purgatory.
While Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1945 adaptation ends differently, the musical’s blend of the real and the other worldly is astonishing, especially for its time.
That the narrative continues to flow so beautifully is the work of Justin Peck of the New York City Ballet whose choreography is as divine to watch as it is integral to the story telling.
Among the ensemble of dancers, Amar Ramasar, who plays the bully, Jigger, and Brittany Pollack, as Billy and June’s grown-up daughter, are scintillating and robust. Both dancers are with the New York City Ballet.
Among these outstanding performers, Renee Fleming lends a mellifluous voice to the role of Nettie Fowler, Julie’s older cousin, who imparts wisdom and hopefulness. And Lindsay Mendez gives a transformative performance, turning June’s friend Carrie from a comic strip version of a giddy girl to a socially appropriate, albeit flawed wife and mother.
Mendez also sings marvelously, as does her oaf of a husband, portrayed here by Alexander Gemignani.
In addition, Broadway veterans Margaret Colin, as the possessive older woman in Billy’s life, and John Douglas Thompson, the Starkeeper who protects the rebellious Billy, are outstanding.
Despite the tragic nature of the tale, the ending allows the audience to feel hopeful. And as a fateful romance, Julie and Billy’s love feels as desperate and true as Romeo and Juliet’s.
In this small stage musical, Goldstein, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, grapples with his feelings about his parents, his family, and growing up. By reinventing the fictions that he heard as a child, Louis, the charming Zal Owen, attempts to weed out the family lies and deceit, to achieve an understanding of himself, and his heritage.
According to his grandparents, “We’re honest as the day is long/We’re loyal merchants to the working classes.” And that honesty, it seems, was maintained by keeping secrets. It was pragmatic, and guaranteed control for the ruling class — one’s elders.
Traversing from present to past and back again, the characters reveal their motives, hopes, and ambitions. We meet Louis’s Aunt Sherry (Megan McGinnis), telling her mother that she’s received a scholarship to medical school. Sadly, Zelda (Amie Bermowitz) responds with advice on how to find a husband. As the lyrics go, “Boys get long days filled with meaning. Boys get contacts; girls get cleaning.”
Charlie Schulman’s book warmly, and humorously, evokes the ongoing issues in family life that keep us all from fulfilling ourselves. The stigma of being a woman turns into the stigma of being considered too womanly — a vice that Louis faces as a young gay man. All of it is shrouded in the fear of second class citizenship — whether it’s because you’re a Jew, an immigrant, a woman, or a gay person. And it’s all sung through in Michael Roberts’ ballads.
Through the three generations of Goldsteins, the musical traverses time, from the early 20th Century, when Louis’s grandmother immigrated, through war time and the Holocaust in Europe, to contemporary New York. As each of the generations inherits the flaws of the past, they also learn from them, and strive for a little more humanity.
With veteran actors, Megan McGinnis, who transforms from youth to old age, and Amie Bermowitz, whose embodiment of a Jewish mother is equally cutting and adorable, the show moves gracefully. As Louis’s grandfather, Jim Stanek (Louie) is also outstanding.
It’s epic schmutz, which will, hopefully, find a following among musical fans.