Review by David Munro
CAROUSEL is based on Liliom, a play by Ferenc Molnar;
performed in London in 1926 with, of all people, Ivor Novello
in the leading role.
Both Puccini and George Gershwin had considered writing a musical
version, but had been turned down by Molnar, so it was left to
Rodgers and Hammerstein to attempt the impossible.
Which they did triumphantly, as has been proved by the never-ending
successful productions Carousel has received since its initial
opening, in New York, on April 19, 1945.
It even received the accolade of Molnar himself, who told the
collaborators: " What you have done is so beautiful. And
you know what I like best? The ending."
It was, as Rodgers wrote in his autobiography, Musical
Stages, better than a rave notice.
What the authors had done was to transpose the story from Budapest
to a New England fishing village at the end of the 19h Century
and to change the pessimism of the plays original ending
into one of hope.
Their version concerns a shiftless fairground barker, Billy Bigelow,
who falls for a mill girl, Julie, marries her, and when she becomes
pregnant, gets involved in an unsuccessful robbery, intended to
provide money to support his forthcoming family, and kills himself.
Arriving in Limbo, he is given a chance of redemption and is
sent back to Earth where his unseen presence brings a hope for
the future to his wife and daughter, even if not for himself.
I have seen many productions of Carousel, starting with
the original Drury Lane one in the Forties. I have never enjoyed
it until last night. Why? because this production is stripped
of all the reverence accorded to the R&H duo and is a down
to earth, honest to God telling of the story.
It has a virile and convincing lead, in Sam Kane, whom I have
enjoyed before, particularly in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,
but never as much as I did last night.
He gives Billy the right amount of braggadocio without losing
the insecurity of the character that is evidenced in the Soliloquy
where he questions his ability to be a father to his unborn child.
His is a performance which deserves being seen in the West End,
where, I hope, this production will end.
His Julie, Jane Mark, is also no simpering heroine and after
the opening duet, shows herself to have the core of steel she
requires to survive. Her singing of Whats The Use In
Wondering had just the right mixture of pathos and acceptance
of reality to give the song the meaning the authors intended,
and removed it from the usual showcase for the lead soprano.
The rest of the cast, although unknown to me now, will not be
for long, I feel sure. Geoffrey Abbotts Jigger was evil,
but with the right amount of charm and persuasiveness to make
his seduction of Billy into crime, believable. He is also a robust
singer, as his rendering of Blow High proved.
Lynsey Britton and Richard Brightiff, as the mobiley upward Carrie
Pipperidge and Enoch Snow, were amusing, showing from the outset
the snobbishness, which led to the snubbing of Julie and her daughter
after Billys death.
I waited with dread for Youll Never Walk Alone, but Jill
Perts rendering gave it a freshness and acceptability I
could never have foreseen.
As to the production itself, it was innovative and well-paced,
for which credit must go to Julian Woolford and Wayne Sleep, whose
muscular choreography underlined the macho nature of the fisher
folk around whom the plot turned.
Jeremy Gladwins set designs were unobtrusive, yet set the
scene admirably. The opening, where the stage is apparently bare
and then transforms into the carousel and fairground, is a magical
effect and was, itself, well worth the price of admission.
Space prevents me from singling out any other cast members of
this admirable revival, save to say that they are all worthy of
notice. In the hands of this cast and production team, Carousel
is alive and well and capable of turning for many years to come.
Carousel: Book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein; based on Liliom,
a play by Ferenc Molnar.
Music, Richard Rodgers; Director, Julian Woolford; Designer, Jeremy
Gladwin; Lighting, David Howe; Sound, Glen Beckley; Choreographer,
Wayne Sleep; Musical director, Gareth Williams.
CAST: Sam Kane; Jane Mark; Geoffrey Abbott; Lynsey Britton; Jill
Pert; Richard Brightiff; Zoe Ann Brown; Richard Colson; Morgan
Deare; Maxine Bowers; Alan Byland; Joanna Lee Martin; Robert Armstrong;
Lee Honey-Jones; Tim Laurend; Jemma Beatty; Nicholas Bower; Maxine
Bowers; Lewis Butler; Winnie Clarke; Grace Harrington; Victoria
Hay; Emily Mascarenhas; Jessica Punch; Charles Ruhrmund; Lisa
Richie; Andrew Rothwell; Philip Scutt; Mark Wilshire.
Produced by Peter Frederick & Martin Dodd, for UK Productions
New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, Wimbledon, London, SW19 1QG.
Monday, May 24 Sat, May 29, 2004. Evenings: Mon - Sat:
7.30pm. Matinees (Thurs & Sat): 2.30pm. Box Office 0870 060