June 21, 2009 performance reviewed by Frances Benn Hall
Barrington Stage Company has opened its main stage season with a flamboyant production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. The sets are amazingly detailed, especially for the opening number with the entire large cast on stage as ingeniously designed horses circle the merry-go-round.
And the cast is a huge one of close to thirty actors, singers and dancers (including thirteen equity actors) who robustly perform the much-loved songs, doubling at times, all magnificently costumed (down to their period shoes) as they populate the various settings of a New England fishing village, circa 1900.
It is a daring achievement in this summer of our shattered economy when black box, small cast, must of necessity be more in evidence. Fortunately a grant of $20,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts has helped make this production possible.
And the delight of the audience in the production proves the opulence worth it, not to mention the trickle-down effect in the employment of so many equity actors.
This is a splendid production of one of the great American musicals, adapted from Hungarian Ferenc Molnar’s greatest play, Liliom, the plot of the musical closely followed with adaptations to transfer it to its New England setting, and be-jeweled with song and dance.
That basic plot centers around a poignant, and at times brutal, love affair between Billy Biglow (Aaron Ramey) and Julie Jordon (Patricia Noonan). He is a rough, crass barker at an amusement park, who expresses the frustration of his twisted soul through violence when he means love. She is a simple housemaid, a village girl, willing to give up all of her meager security for life with Billy.
Somehow, both inarticulate, they express their love beneath the falling leaves of an acacia tree, both sacrificing their jobs in the bargain and not caring.
Their marriage turns out to be far different from the conventional one that Julie’s best friend and confident, Carrie (Sara Jean Ford) makes, and Julie is left pregnant, to cope alone before any of Carrie’s nine children are born.
The love of Billy and Julie is beautiful and touching. Julie’s last line to her daughter at the play’s end sums up Billy’s brutal love and her mute understanding of it:
“It is possible, dear, that someone may beat you and beat you and beat you, and not hurt you at all.”
Although the play is basically realistic, with scenes whirling through the activities of the fishing village and including a seafood picnic, it also includes expressionistic scenes in which a man can steal a star from heaven itself, in a skillful blending of the two very different theatrical modes.
While the play is basically Billy’s (in Molnar’s version his name was the title), Julie has good scenes and songs, well presented.
As do several others in this star studded cast. Leslie Becker as Mrs. Mullin, owner of the amusement park for all her vulgarity (and burgeoning breasts) loves Billy in a moving way. Christopher Innvar, as Jigger, radiates evil and lures Billy toward destruction. Indeed many in this well–cast show deserve cheers for their singing, dancing and gusto. The whole production is buoyant and every actor in it, down to the delightful children, radiated delight in their participation.
Economics, despite that generous grant, reduced the music accompaniment to two pianos in a small pit stage-left; a bit strident if one is seated near them, but capably played, with dexterity, by two musicians who share in the praise
As do the energetic dancers in the rousing dances that Joshua Bergasse choreographed from Agnes de Mille’s original Broadway ones; Holly Caine designed the costumes, and Robert Mark Morgan the sets. Darren Cohen directed the music.
Julianne Boyd, a lady who is fairly busy around Barrington Stage, and who has spent fifteen years getting it to a production such as this one, directed this show that brings so much joy to Pittsfield.