‘Carousel’ review: Rodgers and Hammerstein classic on Broadway
“Carousel” has such a glorious score that the music always shines bright — even in a revival as wobbly as the one now on Broadway at the Imperial Theatre.
You know something is off when the lead roles are supplanted by secondary characters and endless dancing.
Moreover, director Jack O’Brien (“Hairspray”) hasn’t discovered anything fresh and exciting in Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s 1945 classic that introduced such indelible songs as the plaintive “If I Loved You” and jaunty “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over.”
Joshua Henry makes the famous song “Soliloquy” shine.
On a more serious note, it also wove in spousal abuse. O’Brien’s approach to this tricky, controversial material is to not draw attention to it. He’s also come up with no contextual clues to the story and characters.
The musical, based on the play “Liliom,” toggles between late 19th and early 20th century New England and a heavenly holding pen for lost souls needing a second chance.
Lindsay Mendez and Alexander Gemignani stand out as Carrie Pipperidge and Enoch Snow.
That’s where hot-tempered carnival barker and girl magnet Billy Bigelow (Joshua Henry) ends up after marrying mousy millworker Julie Jordan (Jessie Mueller, a Tony winner for “Beautiful”).
Henry and Mueller are thrilling singers. His burnished “Soliloquy” soars. Her no-nonsense “What’s the Use of Wond’rin?” tolls with ache. But elsewhere their characterizations are one-note. And the two don’t spark intense chemistry needed to make the doomed romance believable.
Renee Fleming and Jessie Mueller in CAROUSEL.
So supporting roles stand out. As Julie’s friend Carrie, Lindsay Mendez stirs up a delightful breeze with her “Mister Snow.” As Carrie’s ambitious fisherman fiance, Enoch, creamy-voiced Alexander Gemignani turns “When the Children Are Asleep” into a surprise highlight. Casting opera star Renee Fleming as Julie’s kind cousin pays off with a richly moving “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
Choreographer Justin Peck’s exuberant waltzes and ballet-heavy dancing provide other whirling and twirling centerpieces. At times, though, as with the whaler-happy “Blow High, Blow Low,” numbers can be so extended they feel overblown.
Amar Ramasar, second from right, as the thieving Jigger, leads an exuberant but overextended dance number in “Carousel.”
Looks-wise, this staging cries out for cohesion and a concept to make something more than just run-of-the-mill. Costumes include muscle-cuddling sweaters, high-waisted trousers and glittery heavenly nightgowns. Scenery features stars and moon motifs, a spinning carousel topper and, oddly, just one painted pony off to the side.
You’ll never walk alone, no. But in this revival, you’ll trot solo.