Celebrating the 70th Anniversary of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel (to the day: April 19, 2015), Olney Theatre Center exquisitely reimagines and reinvigorates the classic epic musical, audaciously addressing timely issues of domestic violence and economic status, which still pervade our culture as it did many decades ago.
Spearheaded by the Helen Hayes Award-nominated team behind last season’s How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying – Director Jason Loewith, Choreographer Tommy Rapley, and Music Director Christopher Youstra, the powerhouse production features an extraordinary team of Broadway performers and Olney Theatre Center veterans splendidly showcased with a striking 12-piece orchestra.
Acclaimed by Time Magazine in 1999 as the Best Musical of the 20th Century, Carousel is an enduring tale of love and redemption, following the passionate and tempestuous romance of carnival barker Billy Bigelow (Tally Sessions) and mill worker Julie Jordan (Carey Rebecca Brown). After his untimely death, Billy is given one day – a final opportunity – to redeem his life and return to his wife and see the child he never got to meet.
Artistic Director Jason Loewith nimbly steers his 25-member cast lithely around the intimate set stage, which is enhanced by Seth Gilbert’s visually appealing costumes. Sessions swaggers swimmingly through the role of Billy Bigelow, exuding an aura of rebellious recklessness and deep-seated intensity, and in the character’s pivotal solo, “Soliloquy,” he oscillates compellingly between pure elation and utter apprehension to make Billy’s ensuing felonious act seem all the more foreseeable. With her slim build and femininity, Brown, as Julie Jordan, at first glance, looks delicate and meek but despite her elusive appearance, she is staunchly strong and stalwart — she has strength that does indeed seem to be “quieter and deeper than a well,” as Julie’s pal Carrie Pipperidge aptly describes in the show’s first number.
Dorea Schmidt is absolutely delightful throughout the production, lending Carrie a peppy practicality that contrasts strikingly with Julie’s romanticism, and the dissimilarity in their temperament becomes all the more poignant because the actresses make Julie and Carrie’s friendship seem genuine. Correspondingly, as Carrie’s prosaic love interest, Enoch Snow, who dreams of canning sardines, Eugenio Vargas equips some welcome comic relief, particularly when he first clomps onstage, appearing somewhat off kilter and misplaced. Together, they make a dynamic duo, harmonizing beautifully on the lovely “When The Children Are Asleep,” and shine singularly in Carrie’s “Mister Snow” and Enoch’s “Geranium in the Window.”
Delores King Williams, as Julie’s sage and loving cousin Nettie, delivers the initial rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” with great pathos, and brings great fervor to leading the uplifting chorus in the animated “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” and the delicate “A Real Nice Clambake.”
Chris Genebach is properly villainous as the no-good Jigger Craigin; Eileen Ward is spectacularly convincing as Mrs. Mullin, the lecherous older widow with her clutches in Billy.
Also impressively insightful and eloquently exhibited are the dance interpretations of choreographer Tommy Rapley and Fight Choreographer Ben Cunis, as evocatively exemplified in the standout performance of Maya Brettell as Louise. Her energy and expressiveness help make the show’s second-act ballet, in which Billy silently watches his daughter cavort on the beach, seemingly soar off the stage. And a special nod to the talented singers and dancers in the wonderful ensemble.
Emotionally potent and intensely illuminating, Olney Theatre Center’s Carousel is an unforgettably heartwarming production that lingers and tugs; a legendary, pulsating show that any musical theater or romantic tale enthusiast will appreciate and treasure for many more years to come.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.