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Carousel is alive and well at New Wimbledon



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 play’s 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 What’s 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 Abbott’s 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 Billy’s death.

I waited with dread for You’ll Never Walk Alone, but Jill Pert’s 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 Gladwin’s 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 Ltd.
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 1827.

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