Saturday, July 19, 2014

He wanted to be good, but conditions wouldn't allow it*

Longtime readers of these pages know of my love affair with the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, NY. I'm delighted to say I've returned for a week of opera and musical theater, and it's off to a terrific start with Carousel. This 1945 hit from Messrs. Rodgers and Hammerstein was their second musical, the first being Oklahoma! in 1943. Although it never achieved the commercial success of Oklahoma!, Carousel ran for 890 performances on Broadway, and also had great success in London's West end in 1950.

Ryan McKinny as Billy Bigelow
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
As in the original production, we are thrown into the action from the downbeat. Choreographer Daniel Pelzig's overture ballet has the dancers and chorus miming the hard mill and fishing work that the New England townspeople would have endured, as well as the joy of a visiting carousel. We saw barker Billy Bigelow lead the crowd in a mimed call and response, and we saw them circle around Billy, using motions and carries that suggested the carousel itself. A very exciting effect.

The cast was uniformly strong in singing and acting, and I could understand almost every word. Ryan McKinny, whom I praised last season as Wagner's Dutchman, was Billy Bigelow. While the Dutchman was dark and sinister, Billy is sometimes light-hearted, sometimes very dark and brooding, and Mr. McKinny's singing brought out the contrasts. His acting was sure-footed and natural, and we understood how deeply troubled Billy was. Sharin Apostolou, also no stranger to these pages, was another standout as Carrie Pipperidge. It is impossible not to focus on her when she is on stage. As always, her acting was very natural. Her singing was very even and beautiful, both high and low.

Ryan McKinny and Andrea Carroll
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
Andrea Carroll sang Julie Jordan, the girl who falls for Billy Bigelow. Her singing also was even and beautiful throughout, and it had a richer timbre than expected for this role or for other roles listed in her credits. Her acting was at the same high level as the rest of the cast. Joe Shadday, whom I praised last season for his cameo role in Verdi's King for a Day, was an appropriately blustery and tender Enoch Snow.

Musical theater veteran Wynn Harmon again graced the Glimmerglass stage as the Starkeeper and as Dr. Seldon. Rebecca Finnegan, another musical theater veteran, was all harridan as Mrs. Mullin, and all sweetness and light as the Heavenly Friend. Young Artist Ben Edquist was a delightfully oily Jigger Craigin.

This is visually a beautiful production. A unit set by designer John Culbert suggested a pier or a beach or a sidewalk. Lighting was quite striking, especially in the scene when Billy meets the Starkeeper. Anne Ford-Coates and Jessica Jahn provided very effective hair/makeup and costumes. I should also mention Doug Peck's fine music direction of the show.

I'm happy to say this show continues its run through August 22. I recommend it highly!

Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

*The title of this post is adapted from a quote from Mr. Brecht's Threepenny Opera. 

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