Though the Royal National Theater’s lauded revival of “Carousel” lasted less than a year on Broadway, it has nonetheless gone out on the road under Columbia Artists Management Inc.’s auspices. Audiences accustomed to taking their Rodgers and Hammerstein with lots of sugar will undoubtedly find director Nicholas Hytner’s dramatic rethinking of “Carousel” a surprising departure.
As the ill-fated marriage of the sweet mill worker Julie Jordan (Sarah Uriarte) and the rowdy carnival barker Billy Bigelow (Patrick Wilson) unfolds in this remounting, Hytner misses no opportunity to punch up the story’s darker aspects — particularly Billy’s wife-beating tendencies.
In Hytner’s staging, a very pregnant pause seems to surround Julie’s every mention of her husband’s ugly behavior. The relationship between Billy and Julie sharply contrasts with the much happier bond between Julie’s friend Carrie Pipperidge (Sherry D. Boone) and her beau, Enoch Snow (Sean Palmer).
The design of Hytner’s “Carousel” is as startling as the script reinterpretation. Bob Crowley’s colorful sets constantly toy with perspective, as if to remind audiences how almost every aspect of this musical has been radically re-envisioned. Crowley’s efforts shine most brightly in the opening scenes at Bascombe’s mill and the fairground, and then later in the awesomely vast blue expanse of heaven, where Billy goes to contemplate his fate after his suicide.
Despite some flaws, this first national touring production captures much of what made the original London edition so special. The show’s pacing is a little sluggish at this early juncture in the tour, but that should improve in the weeks to come. The production’s scenic splendors also are occasionally marred when stagehands appear to move some of the set pieces. And Paul Pyant’s lush lighting seems to have lost a bit of its luster in this road production.
But this “Carousel” is blessed with a fine cast. Uriarte and Wilson display superb singing and acting skills; Wilson is especially effective in his handling of the lengthy “Soliloquy.” Boone is a radiant Carrie Pipperidge, and Palmer’s only slightly less dazzling as Enoch Snow. And Rebecca Eichenberger, as Nettie, nearly steals the show with a beautiful, deeply felt “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
The large chorus sings with great authority and smoothly executes the late Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s macho choreography, as restaged by Jane Elliott. The act-two ballet, in which Billy and Julie’s daughter, Louise (Dana Stackpole), meets up with a fairground boy (Joseph Woelfel), is brilliantly danced, making it one of the evening’s high points.