What a curious week indeed. On Monday, Hamlet time travelled to pre-WWI Germany, Tuesday the Trapp Family Singers got far too up close and personal with WWII Nazis, Wednesday saw a Swiss-written Cold War cautionary tale and yesterday the Star of David was worn as a badge of death in The Diary of Anne Frank (cross-references below).
How to continue that thread?
With none other than Carousel—also crafted by The Sound of Music creators. But, sadly, both the storyline and the production fell short of all that came before.
Apart from “If I Loved You” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” (with a chorus shout-out to “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over”), the playlist pales in comparison to the virtual non-stop hit parade of The Sound of Music.
In the pit, thankfully, music director Franklin Brasz was actually facing the cast—but with full microphone service as per Tuesday—the ensemble was better overall, yet there were far too many pitch discrepancies—notably in the upper strings—to raise the musical bar as high as it could have been.
Best of show were Alexis Gordon’s vibrant soprano as Julie Jordan and Alana Hibbert’s riveting, impressive control playing Nettie Fowler. Very good but wanting a tad more support throughout the registers was Jonathan Winsby’s Billy Bigelow (Note to all: even if the mics are on, the diaphragm must be fully engaged to round out the tone).
The collective chorus provided many resounding moments at full cry, but if the sound reinforcement had—miraculously—been shut down, then the mix, balance and blend might well have been exceptional rather than merely boisterous and loud.
Michael Lichtefeld’s choreography was inventive and engaging at nearly every turn. As time goes on, the troupe’s collective landing accuracy ought to solidify; the solo works—notably Act II’s ballet—were true highlights: Jacqueline Burtney continues to blossom with every role.
Living as I do in St. Catharines, where there is still a working carousel (and mandated at 5 cents per ride), the notion of watching carved animals move is more usual than a rarity. Douglas Paraschuk has taken that “look” a fanciful step further, flooding the eye with a magical world of glittering steeds, best seen during the “credits.” Dana Osborne’s costumes capture/reinforce every nuance of their characters’ personalities, Kevin Fraser’s lighting is marvellously creative (especially allowing “dead” Billy to be present but believably unseen). The large projections conjured up by Brad Peterson readily set the scenes, if only the shooting stars unleashed by Heavenly Friend—Marcus Nance, ideally understated in the role—had more effect than cause.
Sorry to report that the weakest link is the narrative. Try as the artistic trust (beginning with Ferenc Molnár’s play, Liliom) might to smooth things over, violence against women, chauvinism, snobbery and instant character change for a few dollars more (Billy still agreeing to rob, possibly kill, his former boss after losing his cut in a fixed card game to Jigger Craigin—Evan Buliung at his slimy best) just seem ridiculous here in the 21st century; but in 1945, war weary audiences may not have cared.
So, if you love the notable tunes (as those humming along behind me did…) and can abide the plot, do take in Carousel.
But if you happen to see The Diary of Anne Frank in close proximity (in my case, the night before), then the musical’s symbol of a celestial star may well induce an unwanted, bitter—although unintentional—connection with Anne Frank’s Star of David—all the way to the gas chamber. JWR