I went to see the musical production of Carousel: A Concert at Rabbit Run Theater about a month ago and I was captivated from the beginning. I promised myself I would write a review and I have finally done it. As many of you know, I’m Maria’s daughter. And so you should also know that I would never give a disingenuous opinion of anything—my momma raised me right! My enjoyment of this show was more complete than I’ve had in a show in a long time. This performance was incredible and I will never forget it.
Also, I have never written a review of a play before so if it sounds cold at all, it’s because I leaned on my brief experience of writing for the newspaper.
Stepping On the Captivating Carousel: A Review
Directed by Brint Learned, the themes of the play shone through every detail in setting and every nuanced performance. From the incorporation of the orchestra on the stage to the symbolism in scenic design and in simple, yet striking, costumes, the careful attention to a cohesive story was evident from the opening interlude. The gorgeous songs and brilliant acting immersed the audience into the story and pathos of Carousel.
The decision to incorporate the orchestra on stage worked beautifully to create an intimate relationship between the play and the music, the characters and their emotions. Never a distraction, the musicians enriched the narratives of each storyline. I delighted in the use of the harp and violins especially. Combined with the scenery and lighting choices, which were used with artistic restraint, the story was effortlessly framed and supported. Some of the musicians even left the “pit” and joined in the ensemble scenes, making the integration complete and blurring the line between the stories we share and the ones we feel.
Musical Director Alex Ulle, who also conducted the orchestra and played the keyboard (amazing), was masterful with maintaining the tone of the show. With excellent music that was both full and poignant, the themes of Carousel were clearly portrayed in harmonious accompaniment to the actors.
The show really shone as the ideal mix of strong singers and wonderful actors. I could not get over how controlled everyone’s performance was. I was sitting in almost the last row of seats and yet I heard every word, every harmony, and there have been professional shows using MICROPHONES where I could not say the same. I will also say that I’ve never seen a live production of Carousel and I’m so glad this was my first.
Evie Koh as Julie Jordan and R. Scott Posey as Billy Bigelow had instant chemistry, which drew the audience in from their first scene together. Ms. Koh captured her character’s quiet independence and resilient vulnerability in a way that evoked compassion in me throughout the play. Her emotion spills from her soaring voice into every song, from the playful and passionate “If I Loved You” to the heartache and unflinching promise in “What’s the Use of Wonderin’?” I was left wishing that such bravery and poured out love in a character could have been better rewarded, which is wonderfully complex.
Mr. Posey’s performance as Billy encapsulated the story of a man who has learned to react to pain and loneliness all his life. Mr. Posey’s blend of bravado and romance was bittersweet from beginning to end. He found a beautiful balance between yearning for love and fearing vulnerability. Fearlessly plunging into the character’s flaws, he gave the audience Billy’s journey, not just his destination. With robust and ringing voice that gave me chills, Mr. Posey highlighted facets of humanity—apprehension, humor, tenderness, rebelliousness—in songs such as “Soliloquy” and “The Highest Judge of All.” By the end of the play, I was aching with all the loss Billy experienced and exultant over his decision to make right what he could.
Paige Heidrich as Carrie Pepperidge, together with Lincoln Sandham as her Enoch Snow, were a delight throughout the play and a wonderful contrast to Julie and Billy. Ms. Heidrich captured the earnest optimism and sweet nature of Carrie, seasoning well with humor that had me rolling! I was intrigued early in the show by Carrie’s song, “Mister Snow.” Ms. Heidrich’s strong, clear voice brought her character to hardy and idealistic life. I loved the contrasts between Carrie and Julie, with Carrie leaning on the safety of social constructs and Julie striking out wherever love led her.
The aforementioned “Mister Snow” brought another layer of fun to the show—I think I cracked up nearly every time he came on stage! Mr. Sandham’s impeccable comedic timing and clear voice gave such a perfect picture of a “gentleman of ambition” with his repeated referrals to buying more boats and having a large number of babies. His song, “When The Children Are Asleep,” was both hilarious and adorable. He was quaint but he was also sweetly sincere and this made his presence a pleasure.
Nettie Fowler, played by Maria Lister-Lyons, brought the array of humanity full-circle with a maternal and exuberant performance. Ms. Lister-Lyons’ rendition of “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” brought an energy to Act 1 that perfectly revealed the strong emotions harbored in the New England coastal village where the play takes place. She rejoiced in all the “young fry” and comforted both Julie and Carrie by turns—always keeping true to that motherly love that can see some good in everyone.
Mr. Tim Shinkle was the quintessential rough-around-the-edges kind of guy as the character Jigger Craigin. While not the strongest voice in the cast, Mr. Shinkle still delivered the tang of a man who has fully embraced a fatalistic philosophy. As the representation of the hardness Billy admired but also feared, Jigger was an arms-crossed symbol I enjoyed despising. It was interesting how my hope stayed alive for Billy but wasn’t even sparked for Jigger. Perhaps it was the difference between a man who was scared and a man who gave up on himself long ago.
Often led by the resonant tones of Ms. Lister-Lyons, the talented chorus’ numbers kept the audience emotionally engaged. Embellished with lively choreography, songs like “A Real Nice Clambake” are a rollicking good time. They had me clapping along and singing the choruses on my drive home! The “Ballet” performance returned to the poignancy represented in the show, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of watching Gene Kelly’s storytelling through dance on VHS when I was a child.
Mr. Learned (director) kept Carousel: A Concert true to the story of human imperfections and the love which trumps them all. It was everything I love about a musical—acting that tugged my heartstrings and split my sides from laughter; songs that were tear-jerkers and songs that were spirited; dancing that enthralled and impressed me; and a somehow brand-new sense of what it means to be a person in this world. I still get emotional when I remember it.
Carousel at Rabbit Run Theater took an appreciative look at a universal truth—people are messy and messy people are valuable.