Carousel

Carousel

2 December 2008 (Tues), West End

Carousel was pleasantly and unexpectedly old-fashioned, a throwback to the days when directors were confident enough to let the material speak for itself. As much as I enjoyed the National Theatre production years ago, I’ve always thought that Carousel, a show that includes joys like wife-beating, mental abuse, armed robbery and suicide, hardly needed darkening. The singing was magnificent, the best overall that I’ve ever experienced for this show. That’s a big plus for a score as beautiful as this one. The chorus was also very strong.

The acting, however, was another story. Billy was nowhere near as powerfully acted as the National production actor, though his singing was far better. Because of his general stiffness, his “Soliloquy”, as well sung as it was, wasn’t as convincing as it might have been. (He chose not to take the high note in the “by God I’ll try” line, which was an opportunity missed.) Still, he wasn’t bad, and a voice of this quality will forgive many faults. Julie Jordan gave a much more consistent performance with a beautiful voice to top it off. Most others were good enough. The only really bad performance in the show was Carrie Pipperidge, whose overly nervous portrayal was extremely irritating. She gave the impression of trying way too hard to express her emotions, none of which were remotely natural. I cringed whenever she came on stage, at least until she started singing, which she did beautifully. Her aimlessly restless and jumpy character reminded me of Roger Rabbit. She needs acting lessons urgently. Lesley Garrett, whose name actually came above the title, ahead of either Julie or Billy, played Nettie Fowler in a very broad, music-hall style, shaking her body and whooping it up with the best of them. This was Grade A ham. I’m not sure that it was appropriate to the material, but it was harmless to the story and fun to watch. She flubbed key moments on both her main songs, including the high note on You’ll Never Walk Alone, but I’m willing to write that off since it can happen to anyone on a given night – of course, this was opening night, but there you are.

The performance of the night, by a long shot, was Jigger. He was cocksure and swaggering not only in his delivery but in his walk, his voice, his dancing – he never let his guard down even when just standing there. It was acting of a high order. He had an interesting way of talking and singing through the side of his mouth that greatly added to his character. He was also a fantastic dancer, particularly in “Blow High Blow Low”, moreover managing to stay completely in character from start to finish. In addition, he totally nailed not only the American accent but a very American manner and gestures, unlike most of the others on stage. I had to double-check the program to confirm that he is in fact British. He is easily the best Jigger I’ve ever seen.

Adam Cooper’s choreography was superb throughout. The ballet was wonderful, as could be expected, with a firm focus on the story without unnecessary showiness. My favorite dance of the night was the testosterone-driven “Blow High Blow Low”, including the rarely done hornpipe. Extremely well sung by Jigger and the boys, who then managed to top themselves with some powerful choreography and plenty of energy to spare. A big thumbs up.

All in all, an above-average rendition of a classic show. While it doesn’t compare to the near-perfect Lincoln Center South Pacific a few weeks earlier, its so nice to see a British production that avoids overly fussy interpretations and simply puts the show on stage as is. It would be great if this marked a trend.

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