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A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!





Opera North presents
Rodgers and Hammerstein's






Eric Greene as Billy Bigelow and Gillene Herbert as Julie Jordan

Photo by Alistair Muir


Production created by Opera North, Leeds - General Director Richard Mantle, on May 2nd 2012, in co-production with the Chatelet Theatre, Paris - General Director, Jean-Luc Choplin

Music by Richard Rodgers

Book & Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

Original Dances by Agnes de Mille

Based on the Play 'Liliom' by Ferenc Molnar as adapted by Benjamin F.Glaser

Conductor - James Holmes

Director - Jo Davies

Set and Costume Design - Anthony Ward

Choreographer - Kate Shepherd

Choreographer for ballet - Kim Brandstrup

Lighting Designer - Bruno Poet

Video/Projection Designer - Andrzej Goulding

Performed by arrangement with Josef Weinberger Limited on behalf of R & H Theatricals of New York


Barbican Theatre

15 August - 15 September 2012


Carousel, golden musical writing duo Rodgers and Hammerstein's 2nd creation, which Rodgers claimed was his favourite, is admittedly, a difficult project to realise, with its very human, highly sentimental subject matter and challengingly fragile, surreal scenes. Yet some aspects of this production are beautifully realised, while others, are, at the very least, wonderfully and expressively sung, as director Jo Davies professed they'd be.

Adapted from Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár's 1909 play Liliom at request of the U.S. Theatre Guild, who'd produced productions of the play in 1921 and '32 and Rodgers and Hammerstein's first musical success, Oklahoma!, this musical version of the play's storyline is set in Maine in the last part of the 19th century. The change of locale to New England's rocky coast, was suggested by Rodgers, and inspired by his home in Connecticut.
Julie and best friend Carrie are in love with the idea of being in love. In the era Carousel is set in, love, oft disguised as lust, and vice versa, means marriage. Julie hankers after devil may care Billy the barker, whose job is to lure young women onto the carousel's revolving horses. He's so good at it, Julie fancies she's in love with him, though he's not the marrying kind and has no other skill, making him bad husband material. The two young friends dream on as Carrie makes a moonlit confession that she's already betrothed to steady Mr. Snow.

As an American long based in London raised against a backdrop of Broadway musical soundtracks in the States, (where I frequently visited NYC) I instinctively pick up on fluctuating accents/Americanisms in theatre here. However, after a time, I've learned to override them in most cases in the name of poetic license. Despite any such blips in this production, I consider it to be as nearly definitive a one of this particular Rodgers and Hammerstein musical as someone with my inborn cultural awareness of such things could imagine seeing in London, especially from the perspectives of its great staging and singing.

Gilene Herbert captured Julie Jordan's vulnerability and strong sense of faith well and her singing was always, tenderly and thoughtfully rendered. Though, the nearly palpable attraction between Julie and her intended, Billy Bigelow, fabulously sung by Baltimore born Eric Greene on the night we were there, did not convince. That said, it must be added that Greene's personal magnetism and star quality as a singer were very much in evidence, as his rich deep tones nearly elevated ballads like, 'If I Loved You,' through the roof to the sky! Despite any lapses in chemistry through acting or otherwise, Herbert and Greene's duets were indescribably lovely, so magic moments were definitely in evidence via their singing!

Claire Boulter was delightful as Julie's friend Carrie Pipperidge, adding much needed humour while embodying the welcome warmth of friendship and, hominess, as in homebody. Any numbers Boulter sung were delivered with clarity and artful purpose, making her character endearingly indentifible. I wasn't surprised to learn that Joe Shovelton who played Carrie's beau, Enoch Snow has also starred in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas with D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, as his comic delivery in the role of Carrie's precise, life mapping suitor is funny, revealing and ironically and expertly performed to garner maximum laughs, which it does!

But all of these performances would mean little without the proper setting to frame them in, and acclaimed designer Anthony Ward works wonders here with his tree trunk cum carousel centre, strips of light bulbs morphing into lights rimming the horse laden ride and so much more. As always, Ward's costume designs are flawlessly in keeping with their time and circumstances, enabling a naturalness to bleed into the flesh and bones of the actors. In conjunction with Andrezej Goulding's seemingly understated but marvellously well timed and placed projections, Ward's designs assume even deeper meaning. These aspects of the production are amazingly realised, and enhance Kim Brandstrup's already heavenly ballet choreography immeasurably, lending the elegantly understated, evocative, surreal dancing a sense of the ethereal which may not have been possible without them. The benefits to the production were met by rapturous audience response for the excellent dancers of this sequence among them, Alex Newton as Julie and Billy's daughter, Louise come curtain calls.



Claire Boulter as Carrie Pipperidge and Joseph Shovelton as Enoch Snow

Photo credit: Alastair Muir


Speaking of dance, Kate Shepherd's breezy choreography on ensemble numbers such as ever popular 'June is Bustin Out All Over' and others might be unfairly easy to overlook if one was inclined to laziness, for they slot into the proceedings so seamlessly that they almost seem a natural extension of them. When well done, lighting is another aspect of musicals that tends to be overlooked, though Bruno Poet's design enables us to access both time of day and weather, two important elements which help move scenes and storyline.

All things considered, this production of Carousel is visually and musically, very well realised. If you love the score and enjoy Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, with all their light and, shadows intact, as I do, you're sure to enjoy Opera North's whirl-wind take on this classic.


Dancers Carl Pattrick, Jake Bowerman, Paul Smethurst and Simon Jaymes

Photo credit: Alastair Muir



Mon, Wed - Sun. No shows on Tues.
7:30 pm weekdays and Sat.
5pm Sun.
2:30 matinees on Thurs. and Sat.
No performance on Bank Holiday Mon - Aug. 27
Barbican Centre
Silk Street London
Underground: Barbican, Moorgate



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