“Carousel” Not a Merry Show but a Pleasant Ride

Photo courtesy Reagle Music Theatre/©Herb Philpott

Photo courtesy Reagle Music Theatre/©Herb Philpott

Presented by Reagle Music Theatre
Music by Richard Rodgers
Book & Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Directed & Choreographed by Rachel Bertone
Musical Direction by Dan Rodriguez

June 9-19, 2016
Waltham, MA
Reagle Music Theatre on Facebook

Review by Travis Manni

(Waltham, MA) It always feels a bit dissociative when I see a show that is technically a good production, but the show itself is rather terrible. While watching Reagle Music Theatre’s Carousel, I clapped, I scoffed, rolled my eyes, and was constantly asking myself, “Why?”

Carousel is a Rodgers and Hammerstein’s show set in Maine during the late 1800’s and tells the story of a woman named Julie Jordan (Jennifer Ellis) who quickly falls in love with Billy Bigelow (Ciarán Sheehan), who runs the town’s carousel. They get married, but Julie confides in her longtime friend, Carrie Pipperidge (Jessica Kundla), that Billy hit her. After a halfhearted attempt to convince her friend to leave Billy, Carrie steals Julie’s thunder and announces she is betrothed.

However, to Billy’s benefit, his behavior takes a turn for the better when he finds out he’s going to be a father. Well, except for the fact that he decides to mug the local high-society gentleman in an attempt to provide an income for his growing family. But the plan quickly goes awry.

Broadway alum Ciarán Sheehan played Billy with a naïve malice that made the character so unlikeable, but still managed to sway the idea that he genuinely didn’t know better (not that this excuses his behavior). Jennifer Ellis as Julie was a charming damsel with strokes of confidence and vulnerability. And Jessica Kundla, whose secondary character had a disproportionately longer amount of stage time than I would’ve expected, was sweet and always had good intentions, but there was something about her perfect life that I just couldn’t stand. And Kyra Christopher, who briefly played Louise, Julie and Billy’s daughter, in the closing scenes of the show, delivered a phenomenal ballet, a beautiful and tragic display that was unquestionably the highlight of this production, and elicited the highest praise during curtain call.

The set design was rather simple. Surprisingly, the opening scene featuring the infamous carousel was rather disappointing. Somehow, the unimpressive plain bit of painted plywood that had been nailed together garnered applause from the audience. However, the designs in proceeding scenes were much nicer, including lovely Maine houses.

Where this show really falls flat, and where no perfect production quality could have saved it, was the message. In the end, the audience is essentially told that even if a person abuses you, it’s OK if they do it from a place of love. No. Just absolutely no. It also struggled to pick a central character and told the story from a rotating perspective, which was just as dizzying as its title suggests.

The music was genuinely boring. There was literally a song titled “This Was a Real Nice Clambake,” and it wasn’t used ironically enough to mock New England culture for me to be OK with the fact that it’s a song that exists in this world. And while the dance breaks were a nice refreshing pause from the generally bland plot, I still wasn’t sure why this was a show that needed to be made. It has no political impact or strongly empowering message, and it was three long hours about small town people spattered with dramatic, unrealistic events. I can’t deny the cast’s talent, but I also can’t support a show with an outdated, misogynistic message whose one redeeming quality could have been a feminist message about strong friendships among women, but Carrie always seemed to be in competition with Julie to prove she was better off.

This is a terrible show, but a good production.

Carousel runs for 3 hours with one 15-minute intermission. To purchase tickets to Carousel, or any of RMT’s summer season productions, click here, call (781) 891-5600, or visit the box office at 617 Lexington Street in Waltham.

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