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Writing for Us
A CurtainUp London London Review

by Sebastian King

It is possible dear, for someone to hit you, hit you hard, and it not hurt at all.— Julie Jordan
Company in Carousel
(Photo: Alastair Muir)
First staged in 1945, Carousel was Rodgers and Hammerstein's second collaboration, following Oklahoma! in 1943. Having spawned 'You'll Never Walk Alone', surely one of the most haunting anthems ever written, it remains one of the most important and influential works in the musical theatre canon. Having dabbled in musical theatre previously, with their productions of works by Kern, Weill, Gershwin and Sondheim, acclaimed opera company Opera North turn their attention to Rodgers and Hammerstein for the first time, with this new production of their dark classic.

Billy Bigelow (Michael Todd Simpson) is a carousel 'barker' who falls in love with mill-worker Julie Jordan (Katherine Manley) when she visits the fair one evening with her friend Carrie Pipperidge (Sarah Tynan). Because of their relationship, they both lose their jobs, and are forced to live with Julie's cousin Nettie (Yvonne Howard), and Billy becomes violent towards Julie. When she becomes pregnant, Billy decides to take part in a robbery in order to help provide for his unborn child, but when it goes wrong, he stabs himself. In Heaven's backyard, he is greeted by the mysterious Starkeeper (John Woodvine) who gives him the opportunity to return to Earth in order to try to make things right.

There is no doubt that this production sounds beautiful. Under James Holmes's direction, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia tackle the rich score with energy and verve, and in the Barbican's auditorium it sounds sumptuous. The songs are sung exquisitely, with Julie and Billy's duet 'If I Loved You', and Julie's Act 2 'What's the Use of Wond'rin' standing out in particular. 'You'll Never Walk Alone' positively soars in Yvonne Howard's rendition, as Nettie tries to comfort and support the recently bereaved Julie.

In his notes for the programme, Opera North General Director Richard Mantle writes that this production is an opportunity for audiences to hear the show 'performed by singers who move readily between the worlds of opera, operetta and musicals', and herein lies the production's chief problem. The principles are singers first and foremost: acting seems to have been something of an afterthought in this production, and as a result, there is a lack of emotional investment in the characters. The songs may sound lovely, but they do not move in the way that they undoubtedly have the potential to do, and this is a real shame.

In its last West End incarnation (at the Savoy Theatre in 2008, in a production featuring Leslie Garrett as Nettie), the eponymous carousel was represented purely by projection. The creative team of this production that includes video designer AndrzejGoulding, tease us with this suggestion, along with some clever choreography from Kay Shepherd, before the cast enter carrying genuine carousel horses, creating a stunning visual spectacle. In fact, the whole of Anthony Ward's set is an absolute triumph, featuring a towering tree at its centre and festoon lights hanging across a starlit sky, complemented perfectly by Bruno Poet's creative lighting.

It's always a joy to hear a classic musical performed to such a high standard, with such accomplished musicians and singers. There's also plenty to see, thanks to the design and choreography, and the fact that we are blessed with such a large cast (the production engages over 40 actors at each performance). However, unfortunately that magical ingredient which brings it all together, and makes a good show a great one was sadly lacking. Opera North's singers and dancers are certainly stunning, but this production misses the 'triple threats' of the West End.

Music by Richard Rodgers
Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Directed by Jo Davies
An Opera North Production

Starring: Katherine Manley, Michael Todd Simpson, Sarah Tynan, Yvonne Howard, Joseph Shovelton, Candida Benson, Michael Rouse, William Kenning, John Woodvine, Beverley Grant, Ashley Matthews
With: Nicholas Cass-Beggs, Riccardo Simonetti, Helen √Čvora, Trevor Eliot Bowes, Alexander Evans, Philippa Buxton, Ian Caddick, Elisabettad'Aloia, William Atkinson, Jake Bowerman, Mathew Chambers, Kajza Ekberg, Simon Jaymes, Ana Mrdjanov, Alex Newton, Carl Pattrick, Sonja Perreten, Paul Smethurst, Rhianydd Beaumont, CarysGray, Alison Guill, Helen Jarmany, Fiona Mackay, Simone Sauphanor, Lisa Swayne, Jennie Witton, Gordon Adams, Nicholas Allen, Ross Barnes, Nick Butcher, Ian Caddick, Keith Higham, Philip Lee, Ben Newhouse-Smith, Duncan Sandilands
Designed by Anthony Ward
Lighting: Bruno Poet
Conductor: James Holmes
Musical Supervisor: Jonathan Gill
Video Designer: AndrzejGoulding
Choreography: Kay Shepherd
Ballet Choreography: Kim Brandstrup
Running time: 3 hours 5minutes including interval
Box Office:020 7638 8891
Booking to 15th September 2012
Reviewed by Sebastian King based on 17th August 2012 performance at Barbican Theatre, Silk Street, London EC2Y 8DS(Tube: Barbican/Moorgate)

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