From: Newsday Long Island | Suffolk Edition
'Carousel' still spins an exuberant tale
BY MICHAEL BRACKEN
Michael Bracken is a freelance writer.
May 25, 2004
When you enter the converted red barn that is Gateway Playhouse in Bellport, you pretty much know what to expect: a reliable production of a traditional (or at least established) musical, that breaks no new ground but delivers the goods musically. And that's just what you get from "Carousel," which kicked off Gateway's 54th season last Wednesday.
It's hard to think of a musical more classic than Rodgers and Hammerstein's ill-fated romance between a womanizing carousel barker and a virginal mill worker on the Maine coast. And hard to imagine its sublime score being sung much better.
Unassuming Jenn Morse as Julie Jordan is as lovely to look at as to hear. When she initiates the achingly beautiful "If I Loved You" duet, it resounds with heartfelt longing. And when Tommy Foster as Billy Bigelow responds, his powerful baritone drives home the song's prophetic message of the lovers' inability, at least in this life, to fully express their love. Morse also illuminates Julie's soulful essence as the deep-feeling wife of a hotheaded hawker who hits her.
Foster has a tougher time with Billy, reminding us just how difficult the role is. Charismatic and cocky but also scarred and insecure, Billy is a man of the world whose violent temper reflects his own inner chaos. But when Foster's not singing, he seems more like a petulant adolescent. This is due in part to his boyish looks, but more to his failure to tap into what makes Billy tick.
Nicole Fenstad and Jason Dula have a sunnier tale to tell as Carrie and Enoch, the show's secondary lovers whose courtship lacks Julie and Billy's angst. Wide-eyed Fenstad is gleefully exuberant as overeager, mischievous Carrie. If she sometimes plays a bit too broadly, she's soon forgiven for her infectious smile and winning personality.
Dula is pitch-perfect, vocally and emotionally, as her nose-to-the- grindstone beau. He wants nothing more than a gaggle of children and "Geraniums in the Winder," which he sings with the comedic self-importance that informs his entire performance.
As Julie's cousin Nettie, Jane Brockman gets to deliver two of the show's most famous songs, the inspirational "You'll Never Walk Alone" and the high-spirited "June Is Bustin' Out All Over." Her soprano soars on the former and delights on the latter. D.B. Bonds is menacing and cagey as Jigger Craigin, the small-time crook who lures Billy to commit a desperate crime. He also evidences a comic flair when he tries to seduce Carrie at the clambake that begins the second act.
You can certainly see why "Carousel" was Rodgers and Hammerstein's personal favorite of their many collaborations. Though it gets a little soupy at the end - with a lengthy Agnes de Mille ballet and a visit from beyond the grave - its lush, beguiling score is far more miraculous than the supernatural sojourn before the final curtain.
CAROUSEL. Music by Richard Rodgers. Book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Directed by Bob Durkin. Gateway Playhouse, South Country Road, Bellport. Seen at last Thursday's matinee. Continues through June 12.
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