×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Carnival

The Grand Imperial Cirque de Paris has arrived at the Paper Mill Playhouse, but despite its tuneful, richly delivered score and the presence of some cuddly life-size puppets, the 1961 Bob Merrill musical "Carnival" is a rather sluggishly staged and too often, uncomfortably tiresome affair. Send in the clowns!

With:
Rosalie - Jennifer Allen Jacquot - Eric Michael Gillett Paul Berthalet - Charles Pollock Marco - Paul Schoeffler Lili - Elena Shaddow B.F. Schlegel - Nick Wyman Greta Schlegel - Alexandra Cassens Greta's sister - Julia Sann Princess Olga - Krissy Richmond Gladys Zuwicki - Nikki Graff Lanzarone Gloria Zuwicki - Sara Lin Johnson Aerialist - Mam Smith Grobert - Richard Pruitt Cracher du feu - Jason Babinski Carrot Top - Charlie Pollock Henry - Eric Michael Gillett Renardo, Dr. Glass - Drew Cortese Marguerite - Benjie Randall

The Grand Imperial Cirque de Paris has arrived at the Paper Mill Playhouse, but despite its tuneful, richly delivered score and the presence of some cuddly life-size puppets, the 1961 Bob Merrill musical “Carnival” is a rather sluggishly staged and too often, uncomfortably tiresome affair. Send in the clowns!

Source for the tuner is the 1953 MGM screen musical “Lili,” scripted by Helen Deutsch from a story by Paul Gallico, about a displaced waif who finds refuge in a rundown traveling circus, where she falls in love with a womanizing magician. Lili is subsequently employed by a scowling puppeteer who finds it awkward to disclose his secret passion for her.

Despite the presence of a fire-eater, a handful of tumbling acrobats, a dazzling aerialist and vendors hawking wares in the aisles, “Carnival” is too often a dark and solemn balancing act.

Director Erica Schmidt has made a concentrated effort to capture the frayed textures of a tacky traveling European circus. While she has laced the gloom and glitter with the proper elements of decay and disillusionment, the pace, which may quicken in time, was unbearably sluggish on opening night.

What really survives with distinction are Merrill’s melodic score and his character-defining, plot-driving lyrics.

As the disarmingly naive Lili, a dewy-eyed Elena Shaddow adds a Raggedy Ann wistfulness to carny life. She has a sweet, creamy and expressive voice that brings a satisfying glow to “Mira,” in which she reflects on her hometown; the confident declaration “Yes, My Heart”; and the score’s most enduring hit, “Love Makes the World Go Round.”

Instead of the customary handheld puppets, the toothy walrus Horrible Henry, Renardo the fox and padded, bewigged unicyclist Carrot Top are life-size puppets manipulated by black-clad actors. The concept works quite nicely, adding a human touch to their conversations with Lili.

The scenes in which Lili shares her disillusionment and frustrations with her puppet pals create a sugary comfort zone, set to the confectionary pleasures of “Beautiful Candy” and “Yum Ticky Ticky Tum Tum.”

Paul Schoeffler brings smarmy dash to the role of Marco the Magnificent. “Always, Always You” finds the vain magician thrusting swords through a tiny cabinet that houses his imprisoned assistant. In both song and spirit, it’s a smart and funny turn.

Charles Pollock is properly sullen in the role of the embittered, lame puppeteer. His character is best defined in song, and Pollock has a robust voice. With “Her Face” and his ardent confessional “She’s My Love,” he manages to croon and snarl with vigorous self-pity.

As Rosalie the Incomparable, the magician’s brash assistant, Jennifer Allen misses the caustic humor that might have provided the show with its missing chuckles. Anyone who saw Kaye Ballard in the original production will recall the comic potential of the role.

Eric Michael Gillett (for a decade the ringmaster for Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus) leads the dance corps in a buoyant parade of spinning umbrellas in the song “Cirque de Paris.”

A dazzling aerialist swathed in billowing white drapery, Mam Smith owes a debt to Cirque du Soleil for one of the show’s most stunning turns. The purposeful, gloomy set and blandly colorless costumes well define the carnival’s tacky ambience.

For the record, Paper Mill’s history with “Carnival” dates back 32 years to a production starring a 17-year-old Liza Minnelli as Lili, in what reportedly was her second professional theatrical role.

Carnival

Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn, N.J.; 1,200 capacity; $68 top

Production: A Paper Mill Playhouse presentation of a musical in two acts with music and lyrics by Bob Merrill, book by Michael Stewart, based on a screenplay by Helen Deutsch. Directed by Erica Schmidt. Musical director, Tom Helm. Choreography, Peter Pucci.

Creative: Sets, Christopher Barreca; costumes, Michelle R. Phillips; lighting, Donald Holder; sound, Randy Hansen; puppet design and construction, Jesse Mooney-Bullock; production stage manager, Gail P. Luna. Opened, reviewed March 12, 2006. Running time: 2 HOURS, 35 MIN.

Cast: Rosalie - Jennifer Allen Jacquot - Eric Michael Gillett Paul Berthalet - Charles Pollock Marco - Paul Schoeffler Lili - Elena Shaddow B.F. Schlegel - Nick Wyman Greta Schlegel - Alexandra Cassens Greta's sister - Julia Sann Princess Olga - Krissy Richmond Gladys Zuwicki - Nikki Graff Lanzarone Gloria Zuwicki - Sara Lin Johnson Aerialist - Mam Smith Grobert - Richard Pruitt Cracher du feu - Jason Babinski Carrot Top - Charlie Pollock Henry - Eric Michael Gillett Renardo, Dr. Glass - Drew Cortese Marguerite - Benjie RandallWith: Albert Christmas, Jim Corti, Michael H. Fielder, Hector Flores, David Garry, Vinson German, Mindy Wallace

More Legit

  • Hamilton review London

    ‘Hamilton’ Helps Drive London Theater Attendance, Box Office to Record Levels

    Brits don’t just like going to the movies; they’re heading to the theater in greater numbers than before, too. “Hamilton” and other hits, particularly musicals, helped drive an uptick in box office receipts and attendance in London’s West End and across the U.K. last year, according to figures from the organizations Society of London Theatre [...]

  • Ethan Hawke

    Listen: Ethan Hawke on 'True West' and the Ghost of Philip Seymour Hoffman

    Ethan Hawke had a long relationship with Sam Shepard and his work — but he never thought he’d end up on Broadway in “True West.” That’s because Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly had already put their stamp on the show in the 2000 Broadway revival of the play. “I kind of felt that that [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Kaye Ballard, Star of 'The Mothers-in-Law,' Dies at 93

    Singer-comedienne Kaye Ballard, who starred alongside Eve Arden in the 1960s sitcom “The Mothers-in-Law” and was among the stars of the 1976 feature based on Terrence McNally’s farce “The Ritz,” died Monday in Rancho Mirage, Calif. She was 93. She had recently attended a screening of a documentary about her life, “Kaye Ballard: The Show [...]

  • CAROL CHANNING HERSCHFELD. Actress Carol Channing

    Remembering Carol Channing: A Master of Channeling the Power of Personality

    There was only one Carol Channing, and her outsize personality was a source of delight to many fans — and imitators. Gerard Alessandrini’s stage spoof “Forbidden Broadway” had many incarnations over the years, including the 1994 edition when an audience member was selected every evening to come onstage and impersonate Carol Channing with the cast. [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda Among Celebrities Remembering Carol Channing

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bernadette Peters are among the slew of celebrities taking to Twitter to pay tribute to late singer, comedienne and actress Carol Channing. Known for her starring roles in Broadway’s “Hello Dolly!” and “Gentleman Prefer Blondes,” the legend of the stage and screen died Tuesday at her home in Rancho Mirage, [...]

  • What the Constitution Means to Me

    Listen: How Things Got Scary in 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    For a decade, writer-performer Heidi Schreck had wanted to write a play inspired by her experiences as a teen debater. But over the years the show started to develop into something both urgently political and deeply personal — and things got scary. In the Broadway-bound “What the Constitution Means to Me,” Schreck reimagines her speech-and-debate [...]

  • Carol Channing Dead

    Carol Channing, Star of Broadway's 'Hello, Dolly!' and 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,' Dies at 97

    Larger-than-life musical stage personality Carol Channing, who immortalized the characters of Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly!,” has died. She was 97. Channing died Tuesday of natural causes at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Her publicist B. Harlan Boll confirmed the news. He wrote, “It is with [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content