Review "Carousel": Powerful Musical Ride of Hope and Tears

Light Opera Works presents



At Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson, Evanston
Music by Richard Rodgers
Book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Based on Ferenc Molnar’s Play “Liliom”
As adapted by Benjamin F. Glazer
Conducted by Roger L. Bingaman
Stage directed and choreographed by Stacey Flaster
Thru August 29th
Buy Tickets
Running Time:  Two hours and forty minutes with one fifteen minute intermission

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

Girl meets boy at the carnival.  They fall in love and live happily evera— wait it’s a little more complicated than that!   Light Opera Works presents Rodgers and Hammerstein’s CAROUSEL, a 1940’s musical heavy with both dated premises and timeless tunes.  Billy Bigelow is a handsome circus barker.  His job is to seduce ladies to purchase more tickets.  A carousel enthusiast, Julie becomes smitten.  Excessive P.D.A. (Public Display of Affection), Billy’s arm around her waist, gets Julie banned from the fair.  Billy quits his job in protest.  Choosing to hang out with him after curfew gets Julie fired and homeless.  Billy is threatened with jail time for the indiscrete coed talking on a park bench.  Despite warnings from external forces, they go all the way and get married.  Their love is challenged by non-communication, unemployment, domestic violence, and even death.   This dark love story is the relatable relationship that defies logic and reinforces fatal attraction.  CAROUSEL is not the usual light  and frothy plot of a Rodgers and Hammerstein’s showtunes extravaganza.   Instead, it’s a reality-based musical of imperfect love with haunting songs.  Light Opera Works’ powerful merry-go-round trip leaves even the most cynical rider tear-stained and hopeful.

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Delivering one of several memorable songs, Natalie Ford (Julie) and Cooper David Grodin (Billy) are beautifully matched in a duet of “If I loved you.”  For contemporary audiences, Ford and Grodin must overcome dated character flaws and only one shared aria to build to a believable epic love.  Together, it’s the passionate “If I loved you” rendition followed by a dramatic first kiss and just a few other sparse moments of affectionate connection for glimpses of adoration.  Individually, they continue to build the case for their feelings.  For Ford, it’s a little easier with a well-executed song like “What’s the Use of Wond’rin’?” with a who-hasn’t-fallen-for-a-tool-attitude.  For Grodin, it’s more challenging to be the anti-hero deserving of love.  Grodin’s turning point moment is illustrated with a commanding “Soliloquy.”  Grodin’s portrayal brings a vulnerable humanity to a hard core dude.  In a secondary love story riddled with practicality, Elizabeth Lanza (Carrie) and George Keating (Mr. Snow) are charming planning their life together.  Bringing delightful comedic moments, Lanza is vibrant lovestruck and Keating is quirky sensible.   Winifred Faix Brown (Nettie) belts out the majestic aria “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”  (Spoiler alert: Chance of tears 100%). Led by conductor Roger L. Bingaman, the entire cast and orchestra provide an inspirational musical experience that lingers in the head and heart long after the CAROUSEL ride comes to a complete stop.

From curtain up, costume designer Nikki Delhomme provides a visual spectacle with carnies and townsfolk mingling in an eclectic explosion of colors and style.  Set within Tom Burch’s seaside set design, stage director and choreographer Stacey Flaster maneuvers a large cast to create stimulating imaginary to complement the outstanding score.  The flow is musically rousing and the action follows the tempo. The speed bumps are the plot points that aren’t necessarily conducive to modern day practicality.  Don’t quit/get-fired from a job for a first date.  Don’t justify hitting/being-hit-by a spouse.  Don’t fall in love with the wrong person.  Ah, if it was that easy.  Rodgers & Hammerstein, you got me again! CAROUSEL, If I loved you, Time and again I would try to say, All I’d want you to know…

Production photo courtesy of Rich Foreman

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