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A CurtainUp London London Review

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
I'll teach him to wrestle
And dive through a wave
When we go in the mornin's for our swim
His mother can teach him
The way to behave
But she won't make a sissy out o' him
Not him! Not my boy! Not Bill!

— Billy Bigelow's Soliloquy
Cast members in "June is Busting Out All Over"
(Photo: Ellie Kurttz)
Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1945 musical Carousel has not been seen on a main London stage since it was performed at the National Theatre in 1993 and a big successful musical would be just the good news that London needs. There is no doubt that a certain generation will be booking seats to see it, but will Carousel bring in a younger audience?

Lovely opera singer Lesley Garrett is the main draw as Nettie Fowler, the mother figure to our heroine, mill girl Julie Jordan (Alexandra Silber) for whom everything seems to take a down turn after she allows a fairground worker put his arm round her waist. Now that part of the plot isn't going to wash with today's generation!

The opening scene has plenty of atmosphere with a man on stilts, burlesque dancers, children in ornate Victorian dresses and everyone trying their luck at the strong arm hammer bell. All the fun of the fair! I must admit disappointment at the computer generated, projected carousel. I know that the carousel only features in the very first scene and that it is the roundabout ups and downs of life which is the musical's theme but I had hoped to see real gallopers instead of people behind the computer generated screen jumping up and down to give the impression that they were on a fairground ride that moves! However, subsequent scenes are not as disappointing. I liked Nettie's wooden restaurant on the beach and the Edward Hopper cliff side backdrop for the reunion scene and the costumes are period and pretty.

The story is of Julie Jordan and Carrie Pipperidge (Lauren Hood) two mill girls and the course their life takes, starting in 1870. Julie is banned from the ride and when fairground barker Billy Bigelow (Jeremiah James) defends her and puts his arm round her waist the carousel owner Mrs Mullin (Diana Kent) gives him the sack. Julie stays out with Billy and loses her job at the mill. At Nettie's spa they celebrate Spring with "June Is Busting Out All Over". Carrie is courted by Enoch Snow who is ambitious.

Julie marries Billy and tells him that she is pregnant. Billy agrees to go with Jigger (Zeph) a whaler and "ne'er-do-well" friend of his on a robbery to get some money to support his family. There is a clambake picnic by the sea for the whole community. At the robbery the victim is pre-warned and shoots Jigger dead and Billy kills himself rather than go to prison and Spa owner Nettie Fowler takes in Julie.

In Act Two we see Billy trying to get into heaven. He is asked to return to earth to put right the wrongs he has left on earth. There he sees his now 17 year old daughter Louise (Lindsey Wise) playing on the beach (the ballet) and being teased by some for her father's disgrace. He makes amends and sings "If I Loved You" to Julie.

The singing is lovely throughout with Lesley Garret's rendering of "You'll Never Walk Alone" surely propelling her to number one choice foropening of the 2012 Olympics. This song has been adopted as the anthem for Liverpool Football Club and the night I saw Carousel I spotted Bill Kenwright, theatre impresario and Chairman of Everton FC, the other Liverpool based club, sitting through the rivals' song!

Alexander Silber has a lovely voice but she does tend to look rather serious and worried even before she is hit by her husband, widowed as he is caught in a criminal act and lives as a single parent with no visible means of support. Jeremiah James is handsome and acts the Bigelow part well but the "Soliloquy" was overly long and rather statically directed. Jigger, is a Dickensian style villain with a battered hat and a tight black suit.

The dance number are choreographed by Adam Cooper but the Savoy's stage is really too small which is a great shame. The whalers look like pirates with bare chests and leather waistcoats and necklaces with amulets and the choreography gets exciting in their all male dance, high stepping in unison or stamping like a folk dance. They get quite athletic with high jumps and flick flacks. The ballet too is a lovely interlude with Louise mixing with beach ruffians and contrasting with small nicely brought up girls lined up in height order and wearing sailor dresses.

I was in two minds about a fellow critic's question as to whether this show with an anti-hero who slaps his wife and hits his daughter had brought a tear to my eyes. Although I am foolishly sentimental, I had to admit that I had surprised myself in the reunion scene between Billy Bigelow and Julie, by having to wipe away tears. "There you are", she said, "the test of a good musical is whether it makes you cry!"

Music by Richard Rodgers
Book and Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II
Based on the play Liliom by Ferenc Molnar
As adapted by Benjamin F Glazer
Directed by Lindsay Posner

Starring: Lesley Garrett, Jeremiah James, Alexandra Silber
With: Lauren Hood, Diana Kent, Zeph, James O'Connell, David Delve, Alan Vicary, Graham MacDuff, Rebecca Lisewski, Zak Nemorin, Derek Hagen, Kathryn Akin, Will Barratt, David Collings, Lindsey Wise, Tom Dwyer, Jay Beattie
Set Designer: William Dudley
Costume Design: Deirdre Clancy
Choreographer: Adam Cooper
Orchestrations: Larry Blank
Musical Director: David Firman
Lighting: Peter Mumford
Sound: Gareth Owen for Orbital
Running time: Three hours 05 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0870 060 6642
Booking to 25th July 2009
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 3rd December 2008 at the Savoy Theatre, Strand, London WC2 (Rail/Tube: Charing Cross)
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Prologue — The Carousel Waltz: The Company
  • Mister Snow:   Carrie and Julie
  • If I Loved You: Julie and Billy
  • June is Busting Out All Over: Nettie, Carrie and the Company
  • Mister Snow (reprise): Carrie, Enoch and the Girls
  • When the Children Are Asleep: Enoch and Carrie
  • Blow High, Blow Low: Jigger, Billy and the Men
  • Soliloquy: Billy
  • Finale Act One: Nettie and the Comapny
Act Two
  • A Real Nice Clambake: The Company
  • Geraniums in the Winder/Stonecutters Cut It on Stone: Enoch, Jigger and the Company
  • What's the Use of Wond'rin' ?: Julie and the Girls
  • You'll Never Walk Alone: Julie and Nettie
  • The Highest Judge of All: Billy
  • Ballet
  • If I Loved You (reprise) : Billy
  • Finale Ultimo: The Company
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