`Carousel' grabs brass ring

Production: Good acting, singing and dancing make for successful show at Toby's.

Review

September 20, 2001|By William Hyder | William Hyder,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

There was drama backstage as well as onstage when Carousel opened at Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia two weeks ago: During the first performance, Russell Sunday, the leading man, fractured his ankle. The next day's show was canceled and Larry Munsey was called in.

In 24 hours, he learned the part of Billy Bigelow - music, lyrics, dialogue and blocking - and the run resumed. The production hasn't suffered.

Munsey, a veteran of 20 productions at Toby's, is giving a fine performance. So are Siobhan Kolker (Julie Jordan), Deborah Bonacorsi (Carrie Pipperidge), Tamarin K. Ythier (Mrs. Mullin), John Scheeler (Enoch Snow), Adrienne Athanas (Nettie Fowler) and Bill Toscano (Jigger Craigin).

Director Toby Orenstein and choreographer Ilona Kessell have done their usual splendid jobs. The cast - down to the last chorus member - sings, acts and dances well. In the Act II ballet, omitted in many productions, Lauren Sambataro (Louise) is a standout.

Considerable attention is paid to detail. As one example, Julie and Carrie walk with the ladylike steps of the 19th century, not the free strides of today's young women.

One small criticism: The show is set in New England, but the performers have adopted a nondescript rural dialect. Only from John Scheeler do we get occasional flashes of New England speech.

In view of the production's overall excellence, a playgoer's decision on whether to see it will have to depend on the show itself. Carousel is based on a 1909 play called Liliom, by the Hungarian dramatist Ferenc MolnM-ar (1878-1952).

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, adapting the story in 1945, moved the action to the New England coast in the late 19th century.

Billy Bigelow, a carnival barker, is attractive and macho, a great draw for the young women who work in the local textile mill. He is also reckless, hot-tempered and incorrigibly rebellious. That does not dissuade Julie Jordan, who is a bit of a rebel herself, from being attracted to him. Billy is smitten, and the two are married.

Both soon find themselves out of work, and Julie becomes pregnant. To get money to raise the baby, Billy takes part in a robbery. The job goes wrong and the headstrong Billy kills himself rather than go to jail.

Fifteen years later, we meet his daughter, Louise, an unhappy girl, taunted by her schoolmates and ostracized by the town. Billy, suspended in purgatory, is distressed by her plight. He is given heavenly permission to appear to her anonymously. But Louise is as rebellious as her father. She rejects his clumsy attempt to help her.

Billy, ever the outlaw, has stolen a star from the heavens. He leaves it behind, and its light gives Louise and Julie strength to go on with their lives.

It is hard to account for the popularity of a show that revolves around an antihero who is impossible to admire and a woman who has fallen hopelessly in love with him, who even defends his violence toward her. Add to this a bloody death on stage, a threat of damnation and an inconclusive, bittersweet ending, and the mixture doesn't make for a lighthearted evening at the theater.

But Rodgers and Hammerstein knew how to grab an audience. The characters and scenes are powerful and the score is terrific: "June Is Bustin' Out All Over," "A Real Nice Clambake," "What's the Use of Wond'rin?" and two all-time hits, "If I Loved You" and "You'll Never Walk Alone."

On the night I saw Carousel, the audience gave the cast a storm of applause, and on the way out one woman was heard to exclaim, "What a show!"

I guess that's the answer.

Toby's Dinner Theatre, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, presents "Carousel" through Nov. 18. Doors open at 5 p.m. Sundays and 6 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays; for matinees, doors open at 10:30 a.m. Sundays and Wednesdays. Reservations are required. Information or reservations: 410-995-1969 or 1-800-888-6297.

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