Musical Theatre Review Print



Raleigh Little Theatre: Carousel Features Superb Singing and Some Excellent Acting

& Preview: Raleigh Little Theatre: Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel Is a Bittersweet Musical Fantasy

June 5, 2005 - Raleigh, NC:


Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Carousel, playing Wednesday-Sunday through June 26th at Raleigh Little Theatre, is a moving musical fantasy about two star-crossed lovers -- carnival barker Billy Bigelow (Robbie Phillips) and millworker Julie Jordan (Kimberly Wagner) -- whose epic love story extends even beyond Billy’s untimely and ignominious death.

Billy’s a handsome ladies’ man, a penniless ne’er-do-well, a sponger, and something of a cad. By contrast, Julie’s a true innocent, a highly impressionable young lady, lovely and sweet, but hopelessly naïve about men.

Just when you think that Julie is about to become Billy’s flavor of the week, true love blossoms between this unlikely couple, much to the consternation of Billy’s employer, carousel owner Mrs. Mullin (Janice K. Coville), and Julie’s employer, mill owner David Bascombe (Phil Crone). (Mrs. Mullin knows that handsome Billy is the primary reason that scores of young ladies flock to her carousel, and Bascombe is an inflexible autocrat who sets an early curfew for all his “girls.”) When Billy and Julie defy their employers to go on their first date, late at night, they find themselves out of a job. Then, soon after they marry, Julie gets pregnant.

Unable to find steady employment because of his unsavory reputation and his hair-trigger temper, Billy succumbs to the not-so-gentle persuasion of his fair-weather friend -- jailbird-turned-sailor Jigger Craigin (Charlie McNeill) -- to participate in a risky payroll robbery scheme, which goes horribly awry. So, the scene for tragedy is set in this bittersweet musical fantasy, which TIME Magazine selected in 1999 as the greatest musical of the 20th century.

The current RLT production of this Carousel, set between 1873 and 1888 in a coastal village in Maine, has much to recommend it. Strongly staged by director Haskell Fitz-Simons and crisply choreographed by Freddie Lee Heath, this Carousel also turns to the beat of the spirited accompaniment provided by musical director Julie Florin and the RLT orchestra.

Scenic designer and lighting designer Rick Young’s multilevel set -- complete with video screen to simulate the carousel sequences and, later, the rotation of the constellations -- and his moody atmospheric lighting also enhance the production, and so do the vivid assortment of authentic 19th century outfits created by costume designer Vickie Olson.

RLT’s Billy Bigelow and Julie Jordan -- Robbie Phillips and Kimberly Wagner -- are superb singers, but Phillips lacks the charisma that made Billy Bigelow so irresistible to women. Wagner’s passionate portrayal of Julie Jordan is much more convincing.

Blair Tecklenberg and Don Smith, on the other hand, are just about perfect as Julie’s perky best friend and confident, Carrie Pipperidge, and Carrie’s fiancé, handsome herring fisherman Enoch Snow. Tecklenberg’s Carrie is cute as a button, and Smith’s Enoch is a delight.

Alison Lawrence is charming as Julie’s cousin, big-hearted spa owner Nettie Fowler, who takes Julie and Billy in when they have no place else to go; Phil Crone is suitably gruff as the imperious David Bascombe; and Charlie McNeill plays Jigger Craigin -- the man Carousel audiences love to hate -- as a scallywag’s scallywag.

Janice Coville is less satisfactory as Mrs. Mullin; but Sarah Richardson is sweet as 15-year-old Louise Bigelow, a lonely child stigmatized by her father’s disgrace; and Triangle theater legend John T. Hall is simply splendid as the powerful Starkeeper, who gives Billy Bigelow the opportunity to return to earth for a single day to finish all his unfinished business with Julie and Louise.

Although there are a few performances that need a little polishing, overall Raleigh Little Theatre’s rendition of Carousel is a real crowd-pleaser. It is the type of musical play -- and the type of production -- that leaves audience members with a smile on their faces and tears in their eyes.

Note: Raleigh Little Theatre Managing Director Cate Foltin says RLT will donate 10 percent of every ticket sold to help restore the historic carousel in nearby Pullen Park. The carousel has been a principal attraction of the park since 1915.

Raleigh Little Theatre presents Carousel Wednesday-Saturday, June 8-11, 15-18, and 22-25, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, June 12, 19, and 26, at 3 p.m. on RLT’s Cantey V. Sutton Main Stage, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $14 Wednesday, $18 Thursday/Sunday, $21 Friday-Saturday evenings, and $12 Sunday for student and seniors. 919/821-3111 or via etix at the presenter's site. Note: All performances are wheelchair accessible. Raleigh Little Theatre: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/carousel.htm [inactive 4/06]. R&H Theatricals: http://www.rnhtheatricals.com/show.php?show_id=85 [inactive11/05]. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=2419. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0049055/.


PREVIEW: Raleigh Little Theatre: Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel Is a Bittersweet Musical Fantasy

by Robert W. McDowell

Raleigh Little Theatre will present Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, a musical tabbed by Time Magazine in 1999 as the greatest musical of the 20th century, June 3-26 on its Cantey V. Sutton Main Stage. Set in a coastal village in Maine, between 1873 and 1888, Carousel features music by Richard Rodgers and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II based on Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár’s 1909 play Liliom (as translated into English and adapted by Benjamin F. Glazer).

This bittersweet fantasy made its Broadway debut on April 19, 1945 at the Majestic Theatre, and ran for 890 performances, closing on May 24, 1947. The inaugural Broadway production, directed by Rouben Mamoulian and choreographed by Agnes De Mille, starred John Raitt (best known today as the father of blues-rocker Bonnie Raitt) as cocky, good-looking carnival barker Billy Bigelow and Jan Clayton as the hopelessly naïve object of his affections, millworker Julie Jordan. Carousel won the 1945 New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical. (By contrast, the 1993 West End revival of Carousel in London won four Olivier Awards, including the award for Best Musical Revival; and the 1994 Broadway revival of the show took home five Tony Awards®, including the award for Best Musical Revival.)

The 1956 motion-picture version of Carousel, directed by Henry King and choreographed by Rod Alexander, starred Gordon MacRae as Billy and Shirley Jones as Julie.

“I first saw this musical from the inside out, as it were: Carousel was the very first production I was ever in,” admits director Haskell Fitz-Simons. “I played a ‘Snow Child’ in a production at The Carolina Playmakers (Chapel Hill) in the early 1950s.”

Fitz-Simons claims, “Carousel is probably the least sunny of all the Rogers and Hammerstein canon. The story is compelling and engages the audiences interest from beginning to end. It also provides some unique design and conceptual challenges in that the scene includes, not only a fishing village in Maine, but also the outskirts of heaven. And then, of course, there is the music. Richard Rogers wrote some of his most memorable songs and melodies for this musical drama, from the irresistible ‘Carousel Waltz’ to the masterfully crafted musical Scena ‘If I Loved You’ and the tour-de-force ‘Soliloquy.’”

RLT’s longtime artistic director says, “Carousel tells the story of the ill-starred love affair of mill-girl, Julie Jordan (Kimberly Wagner), and carousel-barker, Billy Bigalow (Robbie Phillips). The two meet at a seaside carnival and fall in love. As a result, Billy is fired by his jealous and possessive employer, Mrs. Mullin (Janis Covile).

“Less than two months later,” Fitz-Simons says, “their impetuous marriage seems headed for the rocks: with no money coming in, the newlyweds are forced to accept the charity of Julie’s cousin, Nettie Fowler (RLT veteran Alison Lawrence), and live with her at her waterfront ‘spa.’

“In stark contrast to the [ill-]fated lovers is the rather more sunny liaison between Julie’s best friend, Carrie Pipperidge (Blair Tecklenberg), and an ambitious herring fisherman, Enoch Snow (Don Smith). When Billy learns that Julie is pregnant, he enters into a plot with the ‘sleek-eyed wharf-rat’ Jigger Craigin (Charlie McNeill) to rob the wealthy mill owner, Mr. Bascomb (Phil Crone). The plot goes dreadfully awry, and ends with the desperate Billy killing himself rather than facing Julie and going to prison,” notes Haskell Fitz-Simons.

Then, Fitz-Simons says, “Billy is conveyed ‘up there’ (to a sort of ‘heaven’) where he meets the wise and compassionate ‘Starkeeper’ (John T. Hall), who gives Billy a second chance at redemption: he lets Billy go back down and try to help his widowed wife and his fatherless daughter.”

In addition to director Haskell Fitz-Simons, who doubles as sound designer, the show’s production team includes choreographer Freddie Lee Heath, musical director Julie Florin, set designer and lighting designer Rick Young, and costume designer Vickie Olson.

Fitz-Simons notes, “Our set design uses the metaphor of the carnival ‘rigging’ as mixed with nautical rigging. The playing area is circled with a number of poles which are alternately reminiscent of circus-tent supports and of ships masts. From these are suspended various painted ‘banners’ which change the different locales of the script.”

He says the show’s lighting reflects its subject matter. “The lighting is a little more dramatic and moody than one usually finds in a big musical,” claims Fitz-Simons, who adds that the costumes for Carousel consist of “appropriate fashions for [certain] social classes of the 1880s and the 1890s.”

Haskell Fitz-Simons says, “Aside from the fact that Carousel falls in the realm of one of those ‘great big American Musicals,’ with all the collateral scenic, lighting, and costume demands, Carousel also deals with some fairly difficult subject matter (domestic violence and the forgiveness of not the ‘rationale for’ the same big difference!).”

He adds, “A huge challenge as far as the scenic design goes is to create a world which can include a Maine fishing village in the late 19th century, as well as the realm of the Starkeeper without jarring the ‘unities’ too much. Because there is a 15-year passage of time during the course of the play, costume designer Vicki Olson has had to create costumes for the entire cast in two radically different periods.”

Note: Raleigh Little Theatre Managing Director Cate Foltin says RLT will donate 10 percent of every ticket sold to help restore the historic carousel in nearby Pullen Park. The carousel has been a principal attraction of the park since 1915.

Raleigh Little Theatre presents Carousel Friday-Saturday, June 3 and 4, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, June 5, at 3 p.m.; Wednesday-Saturday, June 8-11, 15-18, and 22-25, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, June 12, 19, and 26, at 3 p.m. on RLT’s Cantey V. Sutton Main Stage, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $14 Wednesday, $18 Thursday/Sunday, $21 Friday-Saturday evenings, and $12 Sunday for student and seniors. 919/821-3111 or via etix at the presenter's site. Note 1: All performances are wheelchair accessible. Note 2: The Sunday, June 5th, matinee will be audio described and interpreted in American Sign Language. Raleigh Little Theatre: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/carousel.htm [inactive 4/06]. R&H Theatricals: http://www.rnhtheatricals.com/show.php?show_id=85 [inactive 11/05]. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=2419. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0049055/.