Review: ‘Carousel’ at The Theatre Lab of the Dramatic Arts

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Carousel is a bittersweet tale of romance and redemption set against the backdrop of a town on the Maine coastline at the turn of the 20th century. With music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics and book by Oscar Hammerstein II, the 1945 musical is based on Ferenc Molnar’s play Liliom. Directed by Caroline Angell with Musical Direction by Joshua Coyne, Carousel takes us on a journey from innocence to adventure and from love to loss, but always with a triumphant sense of purpose.

Billy Bigelow (Ari Goldbloom-Helzner) woos Julie Jordan (Sarah Goleman-Mercer.) Photo by Ryan Maxwell.
Billy Bigelow (Ari Goldbloom-Helzner) woos Julie Jordan (Sarah Goleman-Mercer). Photo by Ryan Maxwell.

The story opens with two young millworkers going out on the town. One of them, Julie Jordan (Sarah Goleman-Mercer) is a naïve young woman who looks for a bad boy to shake off the yoke of the mill and its day to day sameness. She meets such a man in carnival barker Billy Bigelow (Ari Goldbloom-Helzner) who is showing off his popularity with all the girls. In fact, when Mrs. Mullin (Halle Kaufax) who owns the carousel gets jealous, she fires Billy on the spot. But soon it is evident that Billy likes Julie and the feeling is mutual. They tease each other and tell each other that they are not in love but eventually they have to admit that they have fallen for each other. Julie also loses her job because she is not back by curfew, but she doesn’t care.

A couple of months later, Julie and Billy are married and are living at Julie’s cousin Nettie’s (Annie Mogilnicki) spa. Everyone is getting ready for the annual clambake. Julie’s friend Carrie Pipperidge (Sophia Anastasi) is the sensible one as she is newly engaged to Enoch Snow (Usman Ishaq) who plans to be rich and have a lot of children. Julie explains that Billy hit her but she still loves him. Billy arrives with his whaler friend, Jigger (Chad Vann) who is trying to recruit Billy for a robbery on the island where the clambake is being held.

Julie is distraught when she finds out she is pregnant, but it has a curious effect on Billy. At first he is dead set against the robbery and wants to return to being a barker. But, eventually he sees that he needs money for the baby and he decides to go along.

What marks Carousel the most are the performances—both individual and group. Billy Bigelow is remarkably portrayed by Ari Goldbloom-Helzner who sings the “Soliloquy” with a powerful voice and impeccable vocal dynamics. He even gets some comedy into the act when he realizes that his “son” could be a girl!

Sarah Goleman-Mercer is nothing short of fantastic as she tackles the role of Julie Jordan. Her soprano voice is strong and clear with an element of sweetness and naiveté that belies her inner strength. She shines as she sings “What’s the Use of Wond’rin’” and when she joins with Goldbloom-Helzner to sing “If I Loved You” it is pure romance.

Sophia Anastasi not only has a lovely voice but she is cute and clever as Carrie Pipperidge, the long suffering and loyal friend of Julie Jordan. When she sings “Mr. Snow,” she is telling Julie that people don’t have to be perfect to be in love.

Enoch Snow is played by Usman Ishaq, who has his faults but truly loves Carrie and they combine beautifully on “When the Children are Asleep.” It’s a little strange that Jigger is both the villain of the piece and provides comic relief.  In fact, he’s at his best when he and Carrie are “demonstrating” various holds so Carrie can supposedly fend off an attacker.

Enoch Snow (Usman Ishaq) confronts Jigger Craigin (Chad Vann) while Carrie Pipperidge (Sophia Anastasi) tries to keep the peace. Photo by Ryan Maxwell.
Enoch Snow (Usman Ishaq) confronts Jigger Craigin (Chad Vann) while Carrie Pipperidge (Sophia Anastasi) tries to keep the peace. Photo by Ryan Maxwell.

Nettie is played by Annie Mogilnicki and it is a smallish role but one with power and purpose.  When she sings “You’ll Never Walk Alone” it is magical and sad and defiant at the same time. Speaking of smallish roles, Lexi Rhem portrays Louise Bigelow and she is superb in the “Ballet” where she dances gorgeously but also almost defiantly.

Choreographer Josh Sticklin and his dance numbers steal the show.  The “Carousel Waltz” is marvelous, where the entire company uses lengths of pipe for the carousel. It is beautiful and strange and it carries us away. In the “Blow High, Blow Low” number, the dancers are splendid as they make a boat out of their lengths of pipe. “A Real Nice Clambake” has the dancers making rhythm with beer bottles and metal cups, as well as clanking their lengths of pipe on the floor like a “jump rope.”

The scenic design is not specifically credited but its simplicity is quite effective. The show is produced in-the-round and there are four ramps of different heights, one with a stairway, and they use them to their best effect.

Joshua Coyne is nothing short of brilliant as he leads the 5-piece orchestra through a challenging score and complements, but never overshadows, the performers.

Carousel is quite simply a beautiful retelling of an age-old story. It’s magical and lyrical and it takes us out of ourselves and into a world where feelings are strong but forgiveness is stronger.

Take a ride on Theatre Lab’s superb Carousel. It’s a magical theatrical experience.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

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Carousel plays through August 20, 2016, at the Theatre Lab – 733 8th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them at the door or online.

 

LINKS:
Review of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ at Theatre Lab by Alyssa Denton on DCMetroTheaterArts.

Theatre Lab Students Ben Cherington and Jack Posey Take ‘Superstar’ Turn in Summer Teen Institute Production This Weekend by Deb Gottesman.

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Paul M. Bessel and Barbara Braswell
The most important thing about Paul M. Bessel is that on January 1, 2011, he married the most wonderful woman in the world, who helped him expand his enjoyment of theater. (The first show he remembers was Fiorello! when he was ten, wearing his first suit.) He and his wife now attend as many musicals, history seminars, and concerts as possible, sometimes as many as 4 or 5 a week, enjoying retirement and the joys of finding love late in life, and going on unconventionally romantic dates such as exhibits of mummies and lectures on parliamentary procedure. They live in Leisure World of Maryland and in addition to going to theaters as often as they can they are active together in community and local political organizations. Barbara Braswell grew up in Newport RI, where Jackie Kennedy once bought her an ice cream cone. She has been interested in theatre her whole life. While pursuing a 33-year career with the U.S. Department of Transportation — helping states build highways, including H-3 in Hawaii, where Barbara helped arrange for a shaman to bless the highway — she attended as many shows as possible on her own, with her late mother, and now with her husband. Now retired, she devotes a great deal of time to theatre, community and local political meetings, and having as much fun as possible.