Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Carousel" is my favorite musical of all time so, naturally, I'm partic'lar about its presentation. Let's just say it was "a real nice clambake" Saturday at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre. The chorus members and all the principal singers were excellent, director Frank McClain did a masterful job of moving lots of folks around, and Ellie Potts Barrett's choreography was snappy.
THE ARTISTIC TYPE: A BLOG OF THEATER, ARTS AND CULTURE7:55 p.m. EST, April 7, 2012|By Matthew J. Palm, Orlando Sentinel Entertainment Critic
At times during the Saturday-afternoon performance of the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "Carousel," the production seemed to be visually depicting some sort of riddle: "How much talent can you pack onto the Bob Carr stage?"
The answer would be "enough to provide an emotionally satisfying, visually pleasing and, above all, delightfully musical version of 'Carousel.'"
The production, which had but two performances, brought together well-known Central Florida actors, Orlando Ballet dancers and a host of other local talent, including stage director Frank McClain, under the watch of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, the presenting organization.
With the lineup of artistic directors, music directors and choreographers, any collaboration such as this has the potential of becoming a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. But after a successful run of similarly presented musicals, the Philharmonic has a winning formula: The orchestra complements the singing, which enhances the acting, which is well-served by the staging.
The show was truly staged, with effectively simple, lighthearted musical-theater choreography by Ellie Potts Barrett, a ballet interlude choreographed by its artistic director, Robert Hill, and colorfully homespun costumes by Marcy Singhaus. While there were set pieces and props, there was no scenic backdrop.
But who needs canvas and paint when the Philharmonic musicians provide the backdrop? The orchestra, conducted by the Phil's music director Christopher Wilkins, added a lushness to the familiar big ballads "You'll Never Walk Alone" and "If I Loved You" while finding its playful side with nimble strings in lighter numbers.
Sometimes, the basic staging helped pinpoint the story's emotional focus. "Carousel" is about Billy, a ne'er-do-well carnival worker, who wins the heart of Julie, a young New Englander, at the end of the 19th century. During the course of the show, Billy dies — but the audience follows him into the afterlife.
I've seen productions make the mistake of dressing up "God's waiting room" like a Willy Wonka playhouse, creating a silly tone when the show's themes of disappointment and second chances call for a more somber, reflective motif.
The simplicity of the Phil's production, and unsentimental, straightforward acting by Joseph Reed as a heavenly assistant, went a long way to keeping the focus on redemption, as it should be.
Shawn Kilgore and Michelle Knight, as Billy and Julie, were in fine voice and each added some shading to the familiar characters: Kilgore's Billy was more self-aware than some, more sad than an outright cad. Knight had a subdued approach to Julie, gravely stubborn.
The best singing, however, came from two supporting actors: Hannah Laird, as chirpy Carrie, brought extra warmness to her tone in "Mister Snow." And Todd S. Mummert, as her beloved, soared through his big moments in "When the Children Are Asleep" and "Geraniums in the Winder."
In the only major staging misstep, Andrea Canny's wise and warm Nettie, lost among the ensemble, didn't pop as she deserved to during "June Is Bustin' Out All Over."
Hill's ballet choreography sweetly suited Anamarie McGinn, as teenage Louise, giving her gracefully youthful leaps and letting her fly in her dreams. It was fitting for this production, which let the emotion of "Carousel" take flight.