“Carousel” is a Maine chowder: popular tunes, operatic elements, romance, comedy, ballet, sentimentality, Freudianism and metaphysics. And, after 66 years, this Rodgers & Hammerstein musical remains a draw, so Mac-Haydn has wisely chosen to make this offering a three-week run to satisfy the public appetite. Once again, the company serves it up just right.
Under John Saunders’ confident direction of this mighty challenge, the production goes full steam ahead, taking the book (based on a Ferenc Molnar play from 1909) at face value and not blinking in Act 2’s abrupt tonal shift.
The show starts with a pantomime (“The Carousel Waltz”) for the entire company. As your eyes flit from character to character, you’ll see the beginnings of the plot line. Millworker Julie (Alison Drew) and the young barker, Billy (John Grieco) spot each other across a crowded amusement park. Imperious Mrs. Mullin (Lauren French), the carousel’s owner, starts a ruckus. Young people flirt. And the residents of this small town on the coast of Maine display their joy in life’s simple pleasures.
WHERE: Mac-Haydn Theatre, Route 203, Chatham
WHEN: Through Sept. 4
HOW MUCH: $30-$28; children under 12, $12
MORE INFO: 392-9292, machaydntheatre.org
Troubled young man
Later, Julie and her co-worker, Carrie (Victoria Broadhurst), linger on a park bench. “You’re a Queer One, Julie Jordan” is the upstanding Carrie’s way of describing Julie’s restless spirit, and here we see that Julie’s burgeoning interest in bad boy Billy mirrors Billy’s desire to walk on the wild side with his no-good friend Jigger (Joshua Phan-Gruber). After Carrie leaves, the fated lovers play a fascinating cat-and-mouse game that culminates in “If I Loved You.”
Soon, however, their marriage disintegrates. Billy continues to make bad choices, and when an attempted robbery goes wrong, he commits suicide, leaving pregnant Julie to be comforted by her cousin, Nettie (Monica Wemitt), with “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
But Billy’s journey isn’t finished: He is allowed by the Starkeeper (Ron Tal) to return to Earth, where he sees the teenage daughter, Louise (Amanda Myers), he never knew in life. After an encounter with her and Julie, which yet again goes wrong, the show ends in a bittersweet fashion.
Whew. And I haven’t even mentioned the subplot involving Carrie and Mr. Snow (Kevin Kelly). Or the extended ballet between Louise and Carnival Boy (Charles South).
Choreographer Kelly L. Shook and director Saunders, supported by musical director Kevin Finn, keep the large cast flowing. The ensemble delivers the goods in such numbers as “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over,” “Hornpipe” and “Real Nice Clambake.” Special mention must be made of the work of Myers and South. A nod to Amelia Millar as Arminy. French makes jealous Mrs. Mullin a frightening scold. Phan-Gruber credibly walks the fine line between appealing and malevolent. Broadhurst and Kelly provide comic relief and superb vocals. Tal’s Starkeeper is ironically, and amusingly, down to earth. And Wemitt never pushes. She’s a force of nature in “June . . .,” and she lets “You’ll Never Walk Alone” speak for itself.
Holding the center
About Drew and Grieco not enough can be said. Each believably creates a troubled soul, wishing for something more but not sure what that is. Their extended Act 1 scene is moving, both dramatically and musically, and his treatment of the famous “Soliloquy” hits all the marks. Despite the activity swirling around them, they remain the center of the piece, and they hold that center.
In 1991, Kander & Ebb wrote the show “And the World Goes ’Round.” Years before Rodgers & Hammerstein knew that it does indeed.