2nd Star's version of 'Carousel' takes emotions for spin Production: The two leading ladies of the musical steal the show with their strong stage presences and exceptional voices.

June 18, 1998|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When I was younger, "Carousel" was just another show to me. I adored the Rodgers and Hammerstein score ("If I Loved You," "You'll Never Walk Alone," the "Soliloquy"), but on an emotional level, it never hit me that hard.

These days, with my two children, including a daughter, it's a different story. When Billy Bigelow, the ne'er-do-well carnival barker comes back to earth from the hereafter to tell his troubled daughter and long-suffering wife that he's always loved them, my floodgates open as with no other musical.

As I headed to Whitemarsh Park in Bowie to see 2nd Star's production of "Carousel," I had a suspicion I was in for a good cry.

I wasn't wrong. 2nd Star has put together a tight, emotional production that does justice to this majestic musical.

The show is dominated by its two leading women, both of whom bring strong stage skills and exceptional voices to their roles.

Tracy Olivera is touching as Julie Jordan, the innocent young mill worker who finds the love of her life in Billy, Broadway's ultimate wrong guy. Julie can easily come off as a sappy dishrag, but here she is imbued with a dignity and strength that make her fate more heartbreaking. Olivera's "If I Loved You" is beautiful, and her "What's the Use of Wondrin' " had me sniffling before the real tragedy began.

Jennifer Raimondi is the sparkler as Carrie Pipperidge, Julie's feisty friend betrothed to her beloved Mr. Snow, also played jauntily by tenor John Scheeler. Raimondi is very funny, and sings sweetly and lyrically in "When I Marry Mr. Snow." Her "When the Children Are Asleep" with Scheeler sounds lovely, though it's not the high point of this lofty score.

It took me a while to get in sync with Mark Blackburn's Billy Bigelow. He was tentative and subdued in Billy's opening encounter with Julie, though there was nothing wrong with his singing in their "If I Loved You" duet. I missed the brash swagger. Billy shouldn't have to fight to be heard, and the scoring was overshadowing some of Blackburn's beginning lines.

I came to like him more as the show continued. The "Soliloquy" was very strong, and Billy's inherent feistiness came through loud and clear when Blackburn picked him up in the Great Beyond.

Jessica Crouse dances beautifully as Billy's troubled daughter, Louise, and you'll admire Ed Kuhl who is salty as the celestial star keeper. John Guyton is funny -- maybe a little too funny at times -- as the dastardly Jigger.

Ensemble numbers are propelled by the charming Kathleen Hammen, who makes June "bust out all over" with admirable charm, and Jason Kimmell, who says little but dominates the stage with his dancing.

Lynne Wilson's set design features a beautiful four-horse carousel in the opening scene. Even then, my throat tightened as the horses started to spin.

"Carousel" plays weekends at the Bowie Playhouse in Whitemarsh Park at Routes 3 and 301 through June 27. Information: 410-798-7001.

Pub Date: 6/18/98

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