Coliseum, London – until 13 May 2017
Rodgers and Hammerstein considered Carousel to be their finest work. The show is this year’s semi-staged Coliseum offering from Michaels Grade and Linnit and they have laid on a sumptuously sized cast and orchestra that bring a rarely encountered richness to the famed musical.
The story based on the Molnar’s original Hungarian fable is a latter-day fairytale, suggesting that true love can conquer all and that within even the darkest most damaged souls, there is the capacity to love and to be loved in return. It’s a sound and wholesome precept for sure, but this ain’t Beauty And The Beast. The argument at the core of Carousel suggests that domestic violence whilst frowned upon is not only acceptable, but can also be bearable so long as the woman truly loves her abusive partner. It is truly a dated yarn, from an era of ghastly sexual politics.
Putting issues aside, the songs are magnificent – though the show’s casting, even if commercially platinum-plated, is artistically curious. The star-crossed leading characters of Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow are played by uber-diva Katherine Jenkins and the megastar of musical theatre that is Alfie Boe. The pair’s vocal excellence is beyond comparison – but the chemistry between them lacks sparkle. Jenkins too often seems to forget that this Coliseum gig is live musical theatre rather than an opera or a recording studio. Her flawless voice is not matched by an ability to act through song and she fails to make us truly believe in her journey.
Thankfully, the show’s supporting roles are marvellous. Alex Young – who must surely rank alongside the most gifted performers of her generation – gives a perfectly pitched Carrie Pipperidge, with immaculate timing, voice and presence. Her take on Mister Snow is a treat, while alongside her, as the eponymous hard-working Enoch Snow, Gavin Spokes is another comic gem. Geraniums In The Winder has rarely sounded so deliciously, puritanically hypocritical as it does here.
Derek Hagen’s Jigger Craigin is a seedy menace – again performed with wit and conviction, Brenda Edwards breaks the Coliseum’s hearts with a stirring You’ll Never Walk Alone and even the modest character of Mrs Mullin, the carousel owner who offers a sensitively nuanced shading to Billy’s complexities, is wonderfully played by Susan Kyd. A mention too for Amy Everett as the teenaged Louise Bigelow, whose second act Ballet is beautifully delivered.
As if Boe and Jenkins wasn’t enough for the coach parties, Nicholas Lyndhurst has been hauled back to the West End for a turn as the heavenly Starkeeper. Of course his performance is divine, he’ll get a few more bums on seats and thankfully Lyndhurst is not really required to sing. However – what truly sets this production of Carousel apart however is the visual (and aural) prominence afforded to the full ENO Orchestra, sat in their raised pit. The melodies are the finest in the canon and under David Charles Abell’s baton, as the timeless Carousel Waltz plays out it is entirely possible to consider that this may be the classic score’s most glorious realisation on this side of the Atlantic, if not ever.
Lonny Price assembles a strong creative team to enhance the show’s imagery. Mark Henderson’s lighting serves well amidst the economically designed set – with James Noone’s projections effectively creating the New England coastline as Josh Rhodes’ dance routines also serve to drive the narrative.
A pricey ticket maybe, but there’s much to enjoy in riding this Carousel.