Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Set in 1870s Maine, the plot follows Julie Jordan, a millworker, who falls in love with bad boy Billy Bigelow, a barker at the local carousel. Their courtship and marriage don't quite go as planned, with the now out of work Billy upset, often drunk, and resulting to occasionally striking Julie. But when he discovers that she is pregnant, he decides he needs to do something in order to provide for the child. What he decides to do changes his and Julie's lives forever and mars the life of their newborn child.
Stephen Casey does an expert job in directing the show, with the non-traditional songs and the many expressive dances seeming to flow organically from the feelings of the characters. However, while ABT's production doesn't shy away from the spousal abuse at the center of the story, it also doesn't dwell on it, and even seems to skirt away from it at points. A scene that features abuse at Billy's hands in act two is downplayed so much that it almost seems like Casey is playing it too safe.
Fortunately, Jeannie Shubitz and Michael O'Brien form a realistic duo as Julie and Billy. They naturally inhabit the characters, instilling their line delivery with emotion, and both form a deep, realistic connection to their lyrics. Shubitz is perfect in presenting Julie as the headstrong yet discontented woman who is fascinated by Billy yet is also naïve and unsure about what being with him will do to her future path in life. O'Brien is fine as Billy, delivering his dialogue in a cocky and stubborn fashion yet also showing a better understanding of life toward the end of the second act.
As Julie's friend Carrie and her beau Enoch Snow, Jill-Christine Wiley and Andy Meyers bring a keen sense of joy, love, and honesty to the show, which is a nice counterpoint to the more troubled relationship between Julie and Billy. Kathleen Berger delivers a moving and meaningful version of "You'll Never Walk Alone," while Brad Rupp and Renée Kathleen Koher add plenty of menace and intrigue with their dark, somewhat villainous parts. Fred Gerle provides some humor and realism in his role as a man who comes into Billy's life in act two and makes him realize the impact of his actions.
Casey's choreography is a perfect combination of period steps, athleticism, and sensuality. Jim Hunter's set features a semi-circle of wooden planks and a few painted tarps that effectively represent the various locales in the Maine waterfront setting. The combination of four carousel set elements with Alyx-Marie Kleinsteiber's beautiful period costumes and Colin Riebel's rich lighting create an explosion of color in the magical opening, "Carousel Waltz," as Julie and Carrie attend the fair and encounter Billy at the carousel. The stage images that the creative elements present are vivid throughout. Kleinsteiber's combination of plaids, gingham, and seaside attire firmly plant us in the 1870s.
With some beautiful ballads, intriguing characters, and situations that few musicals examine, Carousel is a stirring musical. However, with a main male character who is more of an anti-hero, the serious underlying topic of spousal abuse, and several songs that flow in and out of the dialogue, Carousel has always been the one Rodgers and Hammerstein show that I've found a bit hard for audiences to truly love and fully understand. Even with my reservations about the downplaying of the abuse, the combination of Stephen Casey's clear direction and strong choreography and Jeannie Shubitz's moving and understated yet clear performance of the imperfect woman at the center of the story make ABT's production of this American classic very solid.
Carousel runs through February 14th, 2016, at the Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane in Peoria. Tickets can be ordered at www.azbroadway.org or by calling 623 776-8400.
Music by Richard Rodgers
Ensemble: Shelley Attadgie, Hannah Bentley, Kirk Bixby, Matthew Glover, Michael John Hughes, Layne Kunce, Micah Nameroff, Jonathan Rouse, Katey Sabo, Nicole Sartor, Andy Savage, Alissa Tucker
Kids Ensemble: Lyda Armistead, Sarah Astrowsky, Zachary Astrowsky, Kameron Cochrane, Kiera Crouch, Emma Domakeczna, Malana Hokaj, Tia Kassim, Caelan Koth, Claire Lance, Corinne Seaver, Jacob Shipley
*Member, Actors' Equity Association