Carousel was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s favorite musical and Catholic University returns it to its glory days with a full orchestra, a big cast, and talented stars. It’s one of the reasons I love seeing shows at local universities – they can do justice to these ambitious musicals in a way none of the biggest professional venues can afford to and Catholic University always puts on one heck of a show, especially in the newly renovated and reopened Hartke Theatre. Richard Rodgers composed the music and Oscar Hammerstein II wrote the lyrics for this musical that debuted on Broadway in 1945.
The students onstage and in the orchestra pit are aided by a bevy of professionals starting with Director Jay D. Brock who went for tradition at every turn, which worked great for this classic. The set design by J.D. Madsen and lighting design by Brian S. Allard were both deceptively simple – a series of docks to summon the New England setting with houses and the carousel conjured with lights and silhouettes. This allowed the costumes by Eleanor Dicks to shine. The period skirts and plaid trousers create a colorful tableau for this cast of colorful characters. A sound design by Gregory Thomas Woolford Martin also helps in the few moments without music with sounds of the sea and the tinkling of a carousel.
Music Director and Conductor N. Thomas Pedersen has a firm hand on the baton for the almost constant music. There are over 30 musicians in the pit, but they never overshadowed the singers and they would make Rodgers proud, I’m sure.
The ensemble may be the true star of the show, showing great singing chops on “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” and “A Real Nice Clambake.” Their dancing is fabulous, guided by Choreographer Pauline Grossman. With a mix of ballet, square dancing, traditional clogging, and more, this was an intense show – particularly because of the long minutes dedicated to nothing but dance, first in the opening pantomime “Prologue: The Carousel Waltz” and then in the lengthy ballet “Billy Makes a Journey,” which has Alexis Krey (Louise) gracefully tumbling all over the stage and sharing an impressive pas de deux with Philip Da Costa (Carnival Boy).
I have to admit my favorite dance is a dance battle between men and women in “Give it To ‘Em Good, Carrie.”
The guys have their moment in the spotlight on “Blow High, Blow Low” while the girls in a featured ensemble tackle “Mister Snow (Reprise)” and more.
For all the acrobatics, there are long and quiet moments where the leads must carry what is actually a pretty serious drama and there is not a weak link in the cast. It follows the tragic marriage of Julie and Billy (Allison Verhofstadt and Hasani Allen). They are well matched – both have strong voices and great stage presence particularly on the iconic duet “If I loved You.” Allen walks the line between charisma and drama well. His “Soliloquy” is a masterpiece. Verhofstadt has the greatest journey in the piece and I was worried at the start when she plays an innocent young girl that she wouldn’t have the gravity for the second act, but she pulls it off well with songs like “What’s the Use of Wond’rin?”
Their friends Carrie and Enoch (Catherine Purcell and Luke Garrison) are courting and aiming for a different path than Billy and Julie. Purcell’s voice is startlingly good on songs like “(When I Marry) Mister Snow.” Garrison has a fine tenor on “When the Children are Asleep” and impeccable comic timing. Every moment he’s on stage, the audience was snickering.
Mary Efimetz (Nettie Fowler) has the two most famous songs of the piece: the solos in “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s biggest triumphs. Sometimes in a college production, the young people are not believable as matriarchs, but Efimetz brings a real character to Nettie.
Tess Owen and Harrison Smith (Mrs. Mullin and Jigger) play temptation and evil – the ones pulling Billy away – and both play their roles with nuance and keep the drama anchored.
Brock has a real eye for detail, as does everyone who has worked on this production of Carousel. Every moment onstage just works – supported by a talented and passionate orchestra and a collection of truly talented young actors.
If you like big-budget traditional musicals – and Time Magazine named Carousel the Best Musical of the 20th Century – check out Carousel at Catholic University. It’s a fun, moving, beautiful, and breathtaking production.
Running time: Two hours and 45 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Meet the Cast of ‘Carousel’ at Catholic University: Part 1: Meet Philip da Costa.
Meet the Cast of ‘Carousel’ at Catholic University: Part 2: Meet Luke Garrison.
Meet the Cast of ‘Carousel’ at Catholic University: Part 3: Meet Harrison Smith.
Meet the Cast of ‘Carousel’ at Catholic University: Part 4: Meet Catherine Purcell.
Meet the Cast of ‘Carousel’ at Catholic University: Part 5: Meet Hasani Allen.
Meet the Cast of ‘Carousel’ at Catholic University: Part 6: Meet Mary Efimetz.