Review: Take a ride on Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel

Review

milt thomas

After two years, the Riverside Theatre finally opened again with one of the most popular Rodgers & Hammerstein shows of all time, Carousel.

Set in a small coastal village in Maine, it opens with a young boy standing next to the carousel and dreaming of someday working there. He is so excited with the idea that he runs around the carousel and morphs into a grown up carnival barker, Billy Bigelow(Jeffrey Kringer). He meets a local millworker, Julie Jordan (Samantha Bruce) and her friend, Carrie (Rachael Scarr). Billy and Julie are attracted to each other but are reluctant to express their true feelings. They sing “If I Loved You,” so the audience falls in love with them. But a rocky road lies ahead. Billy and Julie both lose their jobs, they get married and she becomes pregnant. This is set in the late 1800s, so neither of them could file for unemployment compensation.

From there, Billy attempts to save his hungry family by committing a crime, but that does not go well. It leads to a “mistical” experience (misspelling intended). There are subplots aplenty – Julie’s friend Carrie is engaged to a reluctant fisherman, Enoch Snow ( Daniel Schwait), some nefarious activities are planned during a community clambake, a starkeeper… If you are unfamiliar with the story, I will stop here so you can experience the highs, lows and the hope that resonates in the show’s final message, “You Will Never Walk Alone.”

The original production was based, believe it or not, on a 1909 Hungarian play, Liliom. Set in Budapest. Rodger & Hammerstein took this on in 1945 for just their second collaboration after the success of Oklahoma! Lilicom was not the stuff of musical theatre as written, especially the depressing final act. But Richard and Oscar applied their musical magic to transform it with an ending of hope and redemption, much more appropriate for musical theater. Lilicom’s author, Ferenc Molnar, had been reluctant to give permission for anyone to tamper with his pride and joy, to the point he sat in the theater during a rehearsal. When rehearsal ended, he was delighted with the result.

As they say, the rest is history, and that brings us to the opening night performance at Riverside. With its large and talented cast of singing and dancing actors, scenery (designed personally by Riverside CEO and director, Allen D. Cornell), and special effects, you can’t stop yourself from believing you are sitting in Broadway’s Majestic Theatre where the show first opened back in 1945.

You probably know the words to at least three immortal songs from the show, “If I Loved You,” You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “June is Bustin out All Over.”   Anne Shuttlesworth and the orchestra musicians were brilliant. They are so important to the show’s success that it’s a shame no one can see them.

You do not want to miss this great performance of Carousel. It runs through January 23 at the Riverside Theatre, 3250 Riverside Drive in Vero Beach. Tickets start at $45 and can be purchased by calling (772) 231-6990 or online at RiversideTheatre.com.

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