Carousel at the English National Opera
Carousel, the second musical by Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein, opened on Broadway in the Spring of 1945 to critical acclaim from both critics and audiences. It was a work adapted from Ferenc Molnar’s 1909 play Liliom, but instead of a Budapest setting it was transplanted to a setting in New England USA.
The story revolves around the carousel barker, Billy Bigelow, who falls in love with the mill worker, Julie Jordan. Their love and subsequent marriage is often violent and in trying to provide for Julie and their unborn child, Billy attempts a robbery that goes wrong and dies. Heaven gives him an opportunity at redemption and this allows for a happier ending than that written in the original story line in the Liliom play.
Carousel has been repeatedly revived, most famously by the National Theatre in its Nicholas Hytner 1992 production. It is filled with great music in a way few other shows are, which is one reason it has always attracted crossover artists with early recordings, including Robert Merrill and Patrice Munsel and other performances, including Samuel Ramey and Shirley Verritt. It was the Hytner production and the 1994 recording by Michael Hayden and Sally Murphy, together with Audra McDonald’s, Carrie, that has been judged as the best all round recording and performance of Carousel.
So we come to the Coliseum opening night of Carousel, produced by Michael Grade/Michael Linnit/ENO, with two new crossover artists in the title role, Alife Boe and Katherine Jenkins, both of whom today ply their careers not in the operatic world, but in the world of music theatre.
The producers put together an experienced team to give this semi-staged version of Carousel a huge boost. It is conducted by David Charles Abell, who has worldwide experience in the opera and music theatre world and with the elevated orchestra in the pit, you can see how much care he gives to the music and to his singers. The 50 piece orchestra was a luxurious addition to this glorious music and they performed outstandingly all night. The same can be said for the wonderful ENO chorus, who joined with the ensemble to produce chorus sound of the highest quality, particularly in ‘Blow High Blow Low’ sung and danced by the chorus and the Jigger Craigin of Derek Hagen, which was superb.
The semi-staged version was directed by Lonny Price, whose other work on Broadway had been nominated for a Tony Award. This is his third show for the producers and being semi-staged it relies extensively on the acting abilities of the performers. He was fortunate in having some consummate artists performing in some of the main roles.
The second lovers couple, Carrie Pipperidge and Enoch Snow, played respectively by Alex Young and Gavin Spokes, both experienced performers, really promoted their roles and love for each other, outstandingly singing their songs ‘Mr Snow’ and ‘Geraniums in the Winder’.
The former X-Factor finalist, Brenda Edwards as Nettie Fowler, gave us tremendous renditions of ‘June is Busting Out all Over’ and ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ and Susan Kyd as Mrs Mullin and Nicholas Lyndhurst as the Star Keeper, played their parts admirably.
A word too for the dancing in the second act with Amy Everett, putting her all into the role of daughter to the two principles, Billy Bigelow and Julie Jordan. The dancing was wonderfully choreographed by Josh Rhodes.
So we come to the 2 leads, Alfie Boe as Billy and Katherine Jenkins as Julie. The surprise performance was that of Katherine Jenkins, who many thought would fail in this role, but even though the traditional vibrato voice might seem strange in a West End show, within the constraints of the Coliseum stage her voice worked well and she was able to portray her role in a manner that pleasantly surprised many. This was not the same for Alfie Boe, whose wonderful tenor sound shone through in his ‘soliloquy’, but the stiff acting and look with his Jean Valjean hairdo and stance was never really able to persuade us, either of his deep seated anger or his sympathetic emotions. He doesn’t do enough to persuade us of his shared emotions with Julie.
This does not live up to the wonderful Nicholas Hytner production, but then very few works would do. Nevertheless, this was a real entertaining show, at times funny, at times sad, without necessarily exploring the depths of these feelings, but enough to give it a standing ovation at the end.
With kind regards,
Tuesday, 11 Apr 2017