Roger and Hammerstein’s “Carousel” is always a treat, and that holds true especially with Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current production at the Civic Opera House. A true spectacle of colorful sets, scenic backdrops and larger than life dancing choreography envelope brilliant vocal performances in the fun classic. Of course, the carousel itself is eye candy in itself.
Set in 1873 Maine, the story begins when two young females, Carrie and Julie, visit the carousel where they meet barker, Billy Bigelow. As a “barker”, Billy’s job is to convince crowd members to take a ride on the carousel and does so by shouting out catchy sell phrases and flirting with nearby girls. After Billy puts his arm around Julie for the duration of a ride, Mrs. Mullin, the widowed owner of the carousel ride, lets him go and tells him never to return. Out of work, Billy runs into Julie where a romance blooms and a relationship develops. As sweet and simple as Julie is, Billy’s exterior is tough and carefree. It’s not long after the two are married that Julie surprises Billy with the news that she is pregnant. Billy, already struggling with raising money for he and his wife, is approached by his ex-con, ne'er-do-well whaler friend, Jigger, who presents the idea of robbing Julie’s former boss- and killing him. Billy refuses but has to rethink the idea as he becomes more and more desperate.
There is an overabundance of musical talent in this fifty-plus member cast that provides one beautiful performance after another. In supporting roles, Jenn Gamatese is simply terrific as “Carrie Pepperidge” as is Matthew Hydzik as her love interest “Enoch Snow”. The two are particularly enjoyable when performing together in the numbers “Mr. Snow” and “When the Children Are Asleep”. Charlotte D’Amboise is sensational as “Mrs. Mullin” and gets to really show off her dancing chops in the show’s later afterlife scene – a surreal display put together just dazzlingly by the production team. Also contributing to the show’s beauty and elegance is Denyce Graves whose stunning vocals can be appreciated in “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over”. Laura Osnes plays “Julie Jordan” and delivers several breathtaking singing performances, most notably in her solo number “What’s the Use of Wondrin’”.
Taking the lead is Steven Pasquale as our conflicted, good hearted but troubled “Billy Bigelow”. Pasquale’s performance is just magnificent. From the show’s early duet that has Billy and Julie singing “If I Loved You” to each other, it was apparent this would be one special production. Pasquale leads this gifted cast with his amazing vocal prowess, heartfelt passion and just the right amount of bravado. Pasquale melts the audience with his finessed vocals, “The Highest Judge of All” being the perfect example.
Directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford and conducted by David Chase, Carousel is a classic that should be seen by everyone young, old and in between.
Carousel is being performed at the Civic Opera House through May 3rd. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.lyricopera.org/carousel or call 312-827-5600.
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