Posted by: operatheaterink | April 29, 2013

TV Review: ‘Carousel,’ Live from Lincoln Center, April 29, 2013

A Dark ‘Carousel’ for 2013 Reflects the Tide of the Times.

Nathan Gunn and Kelli O'Hara. Photo by Chris Lee.

Nathan Gunn and Kelli O’Hara. Photo © Chris Lee.

SEEN APRIL 26, 2013

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

I took time off from proofreading my book “Serenade,” to relax and watch one of my all-time favorite musicals on PBS: the “Live from Lincoln Center” [sort-of] concert performance of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel,” based on Ferenc Molnár’s play, “Liliom.”

The production seemed fully staged, although the sets were minimal and more suggestive than anything else. The singer-actors were onstage with the New York Philharmonic, weaving their actions around, in-and-out, and through their instrumental peers.

Although there are many wonderfully uplifting numbers in “Carousel,” I was quite thrown to discover that I was sad and unhappy with every glorious sound.

I think that I prefer a fully staged production with big dance numbers and great costumes on traditional sets. Such productions camouflage some of the sadness inherent in the fundamental essence of the dialogue, lyrics, and story. The characters are less disturbing then, and, in the case of Billy Bigelow, more likeable.

This production was as much a character study as any drama without music. However the music was utilized to become the mirror of the souls of the characters who inhabited the stage.

Because I was watching the show on a television, the actors’ close-ups allowed me to key into the characters’ emotionality more keenly than had I been in the theater. I was watching this “Carousel” alone, so I was free of the inhibitions I might have felt had I been sitting next to a stranger in the audience. The result was a knock on the head that hit me like a bolt of lightning with a need to analyze each character’s essence as the tears welled up in my eyes.

This “Carousel” was the most mature version that I’ve seen thus far, and a reflection of this era in history. I have never thought so much about domestic violence in the context of this musical before. Billy was somehow unable to redeem himself. There was far less optimism; the youthful joy and hope had vanished for me, which was not necessarily a bad focus, just a different one — a true accomplishment for director John Rando. He had a great cast of actors and singers, and they carried out his vision.

In the past, most opera singers were unable to do justice to Broadway musicals because their voices and enunciation sounded affected. But nowadays some opera singers are able to cross over with success. Nathan Gunn and Stephanie Blythe are just such singers. I much prefer to hear classically trained singers perform musical theater than actors who say that they also sing. Their voices often lack heft and solid technique.

Gunn’s “Soliloquy” was spellbinding and strong. Blythe’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was regal, rich, voluptuous, and bold. I could really see the all-knowing nature of Blythe’s Nettie Fowler. I could watch Billy Bigelow struggle to do the right thing while inevitably doing what was undeniably wrong. Both gave memorable performances.

I couldn’t help but laughingly think that Nathan Gunn was able to imagine and transfer his love to Julie Jordan because he has a Julie Jordan Gunn waiting for him at home. What a coincidence. I’d like to hear the story behind that one.

Kelli O’Hara as the onstage Julie Jordan was fresh, delightful and truly lovely, with a voice to match those sentiments. She was also more mature and all-knowing than any other Julie I’ve seen. She truly understood Billy and had more wisdom than most of her predecessors. She didn’t push Billy into areas she knew he couldn’t tolerate. I think she was shocked when he responded so favorably to her pregnancy. Never have I focused so much on the “If I Loved You” theme — the unspoken love vs. the love that is verbalized. And never before have I thought as much about Billy’s confusion and inability to support his family, which led him astray, then caused him to take his own life in desperation. Again, the actions seemed to be a product of the times.

So I suppose you could call this a modern-day version of “Carousel,” which wraps around our weakened economy at a time when joblessness is part of the fabric of our society, at a time when desperation breaks families apart, when tragic acts — sometimes acts of terror — result from an inability of people to comprehend and make sense of what is occurring around them.

This was a bleak “Carousel.” But then theater is a creative means of mirroring life.

This television version of “Carousel” enabled us to hear the glorious music in a different light. We saw the bad and good in Shuler Hensley’s Jigger Craigin; the deliberations of Jason Danieley’s very righteous Enoch Snow; a wiser, yet grateful, Jessie Mueller as Carrie Pipperidge; and John Cullum as the wise sage encapsulated in the bodies of the Starkeeper and Dr. Seldon.

Kate Burton was marvelous as Mrs. Mullin. I was able to see her anguish as a human being within the confines of her colorful character. I could see how she related to Julie and responded to Julie’s relationship with Billy. I understood the rationale behind her reactions and dialogue.

The utter beauty of Louise’s ballet truly drew me in completely. Tiler Peck’s lithe agility was a sight to behold. Jointless movement turned her body into a pliable clay vision of creative form. She used her human instrument to create a poetic being that at times seemed unidentifiable as a mortal. She was complemented aptly by fellow dancer Robert Fairchild and the inspired choreography of Warren Carlyle.

Although Billy was able to help Julie attain closure, an unsettling sad feeling lingered inside of me. Louise was asked to draw strength from within, and not to base her attitude on her family’s history, which would only serve to deflate it. The accent on this sad commentary on today’s society only served to disturb me because it accentuated the need for parents to become role models for their children, and to provide them with the values necessary to become productive adults.

When I was young, a professor told me something that I did not comprehend: that we are born alone and die alone. I refused to believe that. I do not know that I can attribute such a philosophy or the reverse of it to “Carousel.” But Louise did learn that she had to stand on her own two feet with her head held high. Only then could she realize her dreams.

Julie could finally feel Billy’s love. And he could rest more peacefully knowing that his feelings had finally been communicated to her. Still, these three souls remained entities who questioned their own existence. Such is the turbulence that exists in today’s world.

The Rodgers and Hammerstein score held more substance for me this time around. The singing was wrought with emotion. And the audience was forced to analyze and contemplate.

“Carousel” is a timeless masterpiece that was performed at Lincoln Center by a masterful cast. I hope that PBS exposes the public to more encore performances.

Additional Credits:

Conductor-Musical Director: Rob Fisher
Sets: Allen Moyer
Lighting: Ken Billington
Sound: Peter Fitzgerald
Costumes: David C. Woolard
Stage Manager: Peter Hanson
Presented by the New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert, music director