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I wonder what he'll think of me
I guess he'll call me the "old man"
I guess he'll think I can lick
Ev'ry other feller's father Well, I can!
I bet that he'll turn out to be
The spittin' image of his dad
But he'll have more common sense
Than his puddin-headed father ever had
— Billy's Soliloquy," sung by Joshua Henry as a rousing first act finale.
Ensemble Dancers (Photo: Julieta Cervantes)
Jessie Mueller and Joshua Henry as Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow in the bench scene. (Photo: Julieta Cervantes)
Exit any revival of a show from the Golden Age of Musicals' canon, and you're bound to overhear some older audience member exclaim "they sure don't make them like that any more." Right they are. While the theater has seen a welcome and interesting style of musicals, there's nothing more exhilarating than the ear hugging melodies and the gorgeous balletic dances to be found in a Rodgers & Hammerstein musical. So welcome back Carousel.

Like any revival, even one younger than the over 80-year-old Carousel now at the Imperial Theatre must satisfy the yearning for the familiar pleasures, but also recognize the need to approach it with a fresh eye. Director Jack O'Brien has succeeded on both counts. This new-old Carousel remains a feast for the eyes and ears. Granted, his approach vis-a-vis the dated aspects of the Hammerstein book — is more a case of minimizing and airbrushing Billy's spousal abuse and Julie's ear pleasing but less than feisty "Oh, what's the use of wond'ring/ If he's good or if he's bad?/ He's your feller and you love him,/That's all there is to that."

But whether you want your Carousel with nothing trimmed or changed or with a more radically changed book, there's plenty that IS fresh and delightful about Mr. O'Brien's production: The top to bottom perfect cast. . . the stunning choreography by New York City Ballet's Justin Peck, with New York City Ballet ballet dancers Amaar Ramasar and Brittany Pollack joining him in impressive Broadway debuts. . . the colorful, varied and true to the period sets and costumes by Santo Loquasto and Ann Roth (so what if there's just carousel horse for the opening "Carousel Dance" number? It does the trick of igniting the sexual spark between the independent-minded young mill worker and the sexy carnival barker). . . Andy Einhorn's 24-piece orchestra in the pit to deliver the music without drowning out the lyrics, as is all too common on Broadway these days.

Joshua Henry, who's already made a name for himself in The Scottsboro Boys & Violet is an unforgettable Billy Bigelow. His rich baritone, and emotionally potent interpretation of a man so angry and insecure that he messes up even the one relationship that could help him to function without macho bravado and, even brutality is sure to put him at the top of Tony award nominee list of Best Performance by an actor in a musical revival. The color-blind casting of an African-American Billy, adds nuance that speaks for itself to his problems with employment and the law.

And Henry couldn't wish for a better Julie than Jessie Mueller to ignite the sexual sizzle between them. Their voices and feelings blend beautifully in their famous park bench duet, "If I Loved You."

Lindsay Mendez and Alexander Gemignani are so amusing and engaging as Carrie Pipperidge and Enoch Snow, the counterpoint couple to Julie and Billy's doomed love story, that you tend to overlook that their marriage also dates back to another type of relationship.

Carousel's operatic grandeur is underscored by the presence of opera diva Renee Fleming to bring her lush soprano to the role of Julie's cousin Nettie Fowler. Her "You'll Never Walk Alone Again" solo is one of this production's major show stoppers.

Margaret Colin is terrific as Billie's boss and possessive older lover, Mrs. Mullin. And, like ballet dancer Robert Fairchild who proved he could not only dance but act impressively in An American in Paris, Amar Ramasar invigorates the eye-popping male dance numbers, and also does fine as Jigger, the cause of Billy's undoing.

Finally, there's the always somewhat too corny second act scene that fast forwards fifteen years and finds Billy demanding that the Star Keeper who's this fable's doorman to heaven or hell, put him in touch with "The Highest Judge of All." It's here quite enjoyable thanks to the great Shakespearean actor Jon Douglas Thompson taking on this relatively minor, non-singing role (he also reappears briefly as that of the town doctor in the finale). The somewhat tacked-on feeling of other worldly meeting between Billy and the teen aged daughter Louise who he never lived to love, is also offset here courtesy of Brittany Pollack's thrilling ballet for Louise.

All things considered, whether you miss items cut or the director's decision not to tamper all that much with the book, Carousel retains enough of its "masterwork" essence for me to urge you to put it on your "not to be missed" list.

Postscript Since Carousel's book is based on Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnar's Liliom, you might mark June 11th on your calendar. That's when the Mint Theater is putting on a staged reading of the play, in which Billy was also a carousel barker but Julie a servant girl. The 1909 play was failure when it premiered in Budapest but fared better when translated into English and presented on Broadway by the Theatre Guild in 1921.
  • Musical Numbers
    Act One
    • The Carousel Waltz / Company
    • You're a Queer One, Julie Jordan /Carrie Pipperidge and Julie Jordan
    • Mister Snow /Carrie Pipperidge
    • If I Loved You/ Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow
    • June Is Bustin' Out All Over / Nettie Fowler, Carrie Pipperidge and Company
    • Mister Snow (Reprise) / Women, Julie Jordan, Carrie Pipperidge and Enoch Snow
    • When the Children Are Asleep /Enoch Snow and Carrie Pipperidge
    • Blow High, Blow Low /Jigger Craigin, Billy Bigelow and The Men
    • Soliloquy / Billy Bigelow
    Act Two
    • A Real Nice Clambake /Nettie Fowler, Julie Jordan, Billy Bigelow, Enoch Snow, Carrie Pipperidge and Company
    • What's the Use of Wond'rin / Julie Jordan and Nettie Fowler
    • You'll Never Walk Alone /Nettie Fowler
    • The Highest Judge of All /Billy Bigelow
    • Ballet / Louise and Company
    • If I Loved You (Reprise) / Billy Bigelow
    • You'll Never Walk Alone (Reprise) / Julie Jordan, Nettie Fowler and The Company

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    Music by Richard Rodgers
    Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
    Directed Jack O'Brien
    Choreographed by Justin Peck
    Cast: Joshua Henry as Billy Bigelow, Jessie Mueller as Julie Jordan, Renee Fleming as Nettie Fowler, Lindsay Mendez as Carrie Pipperidge, Alexander Gemignani as Enoch Snow, Margaret Colin as Mrs. Mullin, Amar Ramasar as Jigger, Brittany Pollock as Louise.
    Sets: Santo Loquasto
    Costumes: Ann Roth
    Lighting: Brian MacDevitt
    Sound: Scott Lehrer
    Orchestration: Jonathan Tunick
    Musical supervision and direction:, Andy Einhorn
    Hair,Wigs and Makeup: Campbell Young Associates
    Fight Director: Steve Rankin
    Stage Manager: Trip Philips
    Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, 2 intermission
    Imperial Theatre 249 West 45th Street
    From 2/28/18,opening 4/12/18, closing 9/16/18.
    Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at April 15th press matinee

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