One Good Turn

Billy Bigelow, ultimate anti-hero, finds his heart in Lyric Stage's sparkling Carousel

Much of Rodgers and Hammerstein's storytelling here is done not in songs or book sequences but in music and movement. The soaring, 10-minute "Carousel Waltz" opens the first act with wordless scene setting. Behind a line of women working rhythmically at their looms in the mill, the swirling lights of a Ferris wheel and a merry-go-round magically come into view. Then in a whoosh, the carnival disappears, leaving a bare stage lit by a full moon and a starry sky (lighting design by Julie Simmons). In a blink, there's a beach, a dock. Later the (slightly overactive) fog machines kick in and a pea souper swirls Billy to the entrance to the great beyond. Scenery by John Farrell succeeds by suggesting rather than insisting on these things.

Like other shows of its era, Carousel slows up and quiets down for the comic relief of a lusty sailor's hornpipe or the dreaminess of a ballet. As they did first with Oklahoma!, Rodgers and Hammerstein use dance to advance plot. Silently acting out her encounter with a brash young carny (John de los Santos), 15-year-old Louise dances with the boy on the beach, their splashes and tumbles serving as sexual metaphor. Lyric's choreographer Len Pfluger, whether borrowing Agnes de Mille's original steps literally or using them as inspiration, blends natural gesture with classical forms. The result is a breathtaking tumble of arms and legs as Froehlich and de los Santos carry out their sensuous duet.

Carnival barker Billy Bigelow (Christopher Pinnella) and mill worker Julie Jordan (Kimberly Whalen) engage in a doomed romance in Lyric Stage's big and beautiful Carousel.
Carnival barker Billy Bigelow (Christopher Pinnella) and mill worker Julie Jordan (Kimberly Whalen) engage in a doomed romance in Lyric Stage's big and beautiful Carousel.

Details

Carousel continues through September 16 at Irving Arts Center's Carpenter Performance Hall.

How fine, how satisfying to be thrilled through and through by a local production of one of the best shows in American musical theater. It's not enough to say the singing, dancing and acting in Lyric's Carousel—particularly by Pinnella and Whalen (a UT-Arlington grad) in the leads—are Broadway caliber. Broadway rarely casts anything this well anymore. Given the budget limits and space restrictions of regional theater, it's unlikely that a Carousel this big and beautiful will come this way again.

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