Tuesday, August 28, 2018

June Is Bustin' Out All Over (Carousel Revival)

No matter how interested one is in musicals, everyone knows Rogers and Hammerstein. The Sound of Music is probably the most known show created by the most popular composing duo. I mean "My Favorite Things" has essentially become a Christmas classic, which I don't agree with and think is weird. Like most, The Sound of Music was my first introduction to Rogers and Hammerstein and I have been lucky to see two of their shows on Broadway, first with Cinderella staring Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana (*swoon) and then 2015 revival of The King and I, staring Kelli O'Hara (*still crying over it).

Rogers and Hammerstein are also one of few composers my mind jumps to when I think of who writes the best overtures for musicals. For Carousel, its called "The Carousel Waltz" and it's one of my favorite orchestral pieces. I love this orchestration and wish they would play it as the music on carousels. 

When I heard that Carousel was being revived, I didn't think much of it at first. I only knew one song from it, "If I Loved You" and honestly I only knew of it through Josh Groban's Stages album and honestly, I was depressed that it was going into the Imperial Theatre making it very real that The Great Comet was closing. However, after reading about how it was a dance heavy musical, I decided to give it a try. ***As always these reviews contain SPOILERS if you don't know what the show is about ****

When they announced that the show was offering rush tickets, it made it easier for me to become determined to see the show. I decided to invite a coworker to attend a show with me so that I can finally get to hang out with some coworkers outside of work and even possibly have someone go with me, even though I regularly attend shows solo. The process of getting rush tickets was very easy, in fact I could have probably shown up to the theater later than I did and still been able to purchase rush tickets. The box office employee picked tickets for us in the box seats and we were set to see the show that Tuesday night.

The seats themselves were okay. The positive was that we were essentially over the stage so we were able to see the cast's facial expressions very well. The negative was that we were also angled in a weird spot to where we were constantly moving around in our chairs trying to see certain scenes on stage and we even missed a certain part of the storyline because it was out of our view. What really frustrated me was when the person in front of me put their foot up on the chair for the second act and had their knee blocking my view to where I was sitting on the edge of my chair and was having to shift my body side to side to see around them. I would definitely ask to be put in the rear mezzanine if I decided to rush the show again.

While there is a lot of history behind the show and an interesting storyline, I feel like there's two major facts to know about the show in general. First, Carousel is the second show Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote together, created after the success of Oklahoma, and this show is one of the darker shows that the duo created. To prepare to see the show, I decided to watch the 2013 filmed concert at Lincoln Center starring Kelli O'Hara and Nathan Gunn, currently available to stream on Amazon Prime. What's interesting about that cast is the role of Carrie Pipperidge was played by Jessie Mueller, who is currently playing Julie Jordan in this revival.

Going into the show, I kept thinking that I would keep hearing Jessie as Carrie and only imagine Kelli as Julie Jordan, but this is what makes Jessie such a great actress. She makes the role of Julie her own and she shows what a versatile actress she is. What really affected me in her storytelling what when she asked Nellie what she was going to do after Billy died. The emotions she used during that scene was heartbreaking and even the friend that came to me said she started bawling at that point. Another emotional scene that Jessie gave was when Billy was showing himself to their daughter and when Julie was able to see him for a second before Billy hid himself from her, the emotional response she gave was another heart breaking moment. This performance is a well earned Tony Nomination for Jessie.

Joshua Henry as Billy Bigelow. Where to start. I knew that when they announced him for the role, it was going to be great. His facial expressions throughout the performance were outstanding and I was rooting for him to win the Tony Award for Best Actor. He blew me away with Billy's two big numbers Act One closer "Soliloquy" and "The Highest Judge of All." Henry's performance of "Soliloquy" had the audience cheering so loudly, that I was honestly surprised he wasn't given a standing ovation as it was the final number of the act. Henry made the audience feel the internal struggle Billy was going through in life and in the heaven and he made the audience feel for the character, which I feel can be difficult to accomplish.

Renee Fleming was outstanding. I've heard mixed reviews on her performance, but as one who doesn't attend operas or have ever seen an opera, I went in without knowing any performance she has done except for when she sang at the Super Bowl a few years ago. Her rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone" was heartbreaking and you could see how her character was there for Julie before and after the death of Billy.

Lindsay Mendez's comic performance as Carrie Pipperidge was a much needed distraction from the storyline between Julie and Billy throughout the show. Honestly, if it wasn't for the moments I mentioned above, Lindsay could have easily stolen the show, especially when paired with Alexander Gemignani as Enoch Snow. At first I was surprised to hear that Lindsay was cast in the role of Carrie because I feel that it is a complete 180 from the role of Elphaba not only in character development but also vocally, but Lindsay proved anyone who would be skeptical about her in the role wrong, including me.

This is another show, similar to Frozen, where the ensemble really carried the weight of the show. The one great part of being in the box seats was being able to see all the choreography up close. There were at least four or five huge dance numbers throughout the show, so you know this show is challenging this cast every night and they are constantly giving 150% each performance. The dancing was beautiful and i loved the mix of different dance styles throughout the show. Justin Peck did a great job choreographic the show. My favorite dance number has to be "Blow High, Blow Low". There's just something about an all male dance number that makes me so happy (aka "Seize the Day" from Newsies).

Before I finish this review, I would like to give a special shoutout to Amar Ramasar who played the role of Jigger. This show is his Broadway debut after spending most of his career at New York City Ballet. Having not really read in detail his bio, I was not aware going in that he is a principal dancer with New York City Ballet, so his dancing was blowing me away while he was giving powerful vocals throughout "Blow High, Blow Low". I agree with the reviews that raves his performance and felt that he deserved a special shoutout in this review.

This is the perfect revival for one to be able to see a classic Rodgers and Hammerstein show and should not be missed. I could not wait for the cast recording to come out  and just like Frozen and Mean Girls, it has been on repeat.

Carousel is currently playing at the Imperial Theatre on 45th street between 7th and 8th avenue.

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