Saturday, November 16, 2013

Carousel, Baldwin Wallace University

Many people have a love-hate relationship with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. While multitudes adore the rich music and enduring tale that those two geniuses produced, others are repelled by the sexism and casual acceptance of abuse that pokes through. Not to mention a plot that lurches uncomfortably at times.

Whatever camp you’re in, this dazzling production will likely make you a lover. Directed with passion and precision by Scott Plate, the ever-spinning circles—life and death, romance and rejection, misdeeds and redemption—whirl into a most memorable event.

Adapted by R&H from a play set in Budapest, this iconic musical takes place on the Maine seacoast in 1904. Scenic designer Jeff Herrmann’s in-the-round set features a central, circular wooden deck bleached by sun and salt water, where the locals cavort. The set functions splendidly on several levels. It offers the performers ample room to dance, since Gregory Daniels’ muscular and often sensuous choreography requires some serious elbowroom.

But viewed symbolically, the circle with two attached runways neatly overlays the two gender symbols for man and woman , joining them at the shared circle. This allows the women to head off one way, flouncing through their kitchen door, and the men to romp the opposite way, up onto the rigging of a ship’s mast. Freud could have had a field day with this set.

And it comes to life, gloriously, in the opening “Carousel Walttz,” an overture complete with clever mini-vignettes and a human carousel that earns it’s own applause even before the prologue is complete.

Since this is a BWU production, four major roles are double cast to provide more opportunities for their preternaturally talented students. On this night, Kyle-Jean Baptiste and Caroline Murrah played the star-crossed lovers Billy Bigelow and Julie Jordan.

Baptiste creates a brash and brawling Billy, and his tender/tough rendition of the surpassingly intricate “Soliloquy” is enough to bring you to your feet. Murrah handles the subtler role of Julie with a deft touch, enabling us to relate to her character’s sweet passivity as an artifact of the time (or at least, we wish it were so).

As for the other two double-cast performers, Mary Mondlock infuses Carrie Pipperidge with sprightly energy and Anthony Sagaria evolves her main squeeze Enoch Snow from a taciturn stud to a rigid pain in the ass.

Among the permanent cast members, Brandyn Day is alternately amusing and scary as Billy’s snarky buddy Jigger Craigin. And Lissy Gulick is just adorable as Nettie Fowler, crooning “You’ll Never Walk Alone” so melodically, Jerry Lewis must be somewhere weeping. As Mrs. Mullin, the vindictive owner of the carousel, Sara Zoe Budnik is fine although she could add a bit more edge and orneriness.

The voices of all the performers range from very good to exceptional, as one has come to expect from the B-W Department of Theatre and Dance and the Conservatory of Music. They are accompanied in this production by just two grand pianos, played with admirable nuance by music director Andrew Leslie Cooper and music supervisor Nancy Maier.

Even if some of the plot points are curious (When exactly did Billy and Julie get married? A posthumous good deed absolves all the crap you did when you were alive? Really?), this production sweeps you away with its spirit.

Indeed, it’s a play with so many perfect moments along with a handful of off-notes that it’s impossible to get all of it right all the time. But this production comes damn close.

Word has it that the short run is completely sold out. However, if someone offers you a couple tickets they bought and you’re getting married that night, postpone the wedding. You can get hooked any day, but you’re not likely to see a performance of Carousel as wonderful as this anytime soon.

Through November 24, produced by the Baldwin Wallace University Department of Theatre and Dance & the Conservatory of Music, Kleist Center for Art and Drama,

No comments: