The chance to see a top-notch live production of a Golden Age musical like Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel” rarely comes along.
So fans of classic song-and-dance shows should hop on horseback to see the Lyric Theater’s dazzling production of “Carousel” before it closes on July 10 at the Civic Center.
Both famous and controversial, “Carousel” is the second title in the Lyric Theatre’s three-show “Summer at the Civic Center” season, which marks the return of the “Official State Theater of the State” for the first time. Oklahoma” at his longtime summer home. since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The summer season wraps up with Lyric’s July 19-24 production of “Kinky Boots.”
Directed by Production Artistic Director Michael Baron, Lyric’s “Carousel” is beautifully staged, superbly sung and sensitively told. The title, which Time magazine in 1999 named the best musical of the 20th century, contains some of the most beloved show tunes in theater history, but also tells the heartbreaking story of a dysfunctional marriage complicated by domestic violence, poverty and suicide.
Opera narration spins through ‘Carousel’
Composer Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) and lyricist and writer Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960) followed the pioneering success with their 1943 collaboration “Oklahoma!” with “Carousel”, which bowed on Broadway in 1945 and immediately became their second consecutive critical and commercial success. As with “Oklahoma!”, they enlisted choreographer Agnès de Mille to help tell the story of “Carousel” through dance and song.
And just as they founded their “Oklahoma!” on the play “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Claremore native Lynn Riggs, Rodgers and Hammerstein adapted “Carousel” from the Hungarian-language drama “Liliom” by author Ferenc Molnár. Although Rodgers and Hammerstein won the rights, it’s worth noting that Italian opera icon Giacomo Puccini was also interested in adapting the title, as there’s a distinctly lyrical twist to “Carousel.”
Set in a coastal Maine village in the late 19th century, “Carousel” revolves around Billy Bigelow (Joe Caskey), an arrogant carnival barker, who meets and marries Julie Jordan (Julianne Reynolds), a gentle miller, when she visits the carousel with her feisty friend and colleague Carrie (Anette Barrios-Torres).
Billy and Julie are an unlikely couple, but they are undeniably attracted to each other and immediately make sacrifices for each other. Julie loses her job at the factory by defying the mandatory curfew to stay out late and keep talking to Billy, and he loses his carousel gig when he scolds his jealous landlady, Mrs. Mullin (Lindsie VanWinkle-Guthrie), for harassing Julie.
Billy and Julie are soon married, and Julie’s supportive cousin Nettie (Courtney Crouse) lets them live in her spa. Still, their lack of funds quickly becomes a problem, and Billy punches Julie during a fight over it. Carrie, who is in the middle of her own backyard with ambitious fisherman Enoch Snow (Colin Anderson), encourages Julie to leave Billy but she adamantly refuses.
When Billy learns that Julie is pregnant, he desperately seeks to provide a decent life for his family. His sleazy sailor buddy Jigger (Joseph Campbell) convinces Billy to go on a robbery, but it goes horribly wrong.
The Lyric Theatre’s ‘Carousel’ puts an orchestra on stage with an ensemble
“Carousel” revolves around universal themes like relationships and redemption and even life and death, with much of the second act taking place in the afterlife. And in the manner of Golden Age musicals, it does its most effective storytelling through song and dance.
Caskey, who played the escapologist in Lyric’s June production of “Matilda” and Danny in OKC Theater’s 2021 staging of “Grease,” and Reynolds, who appeared last year in the “Master Class” by Lyric, establish both crackling chemistry and their vocal chops with “If I Loved You.” He delivers the seven-and-a-half-minute operatic “Soliloquy” that closes the first act with fantastical flair, and she elevates the melancholic “What’s the Use of Wond’rin’” to great heights.
Crouse, who co-fronted Lyric’s “Master Class,” practically brings the show to a halt with his soaring rendition of the beloved anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
Barrios-Torres, who appeared last summer on Lyric’s “Grease,” and Colin Anderson, fresh off the national tour of “My Fair Lady” who played OKC last fall, charm as Sassy and loyal Carrie and her stuffy but lovable boyfriend Enoch Snow.
Making her Lyric Theater debut, Anna McGuire is magnetic as Louise, Billy and Julie’s troubled daughter, who pours her teenage angst into the show’s superb second-act ballet.
The ensemble ensemble excels in both song and dance, especially on raucous numbers like “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over”, “Blow High, Blow Low” and “This Was a Real Nice clambake”.
Set designer Kimberly Powers’ clever stage design puts the skilled 16-member orchestra, led by longtime Lyric Theater collaborator David Andrews Rogers, right on stage, making the legendaryly beautiful score even more lively and immediate.
Rodgers considered “Carousel” his favorite of all the musicals he worked on with Hammerstein or his other partners. The show is not recommended for young children, but musical theater fans, teenagers or adults, should definitely give it a try.
‘CAROUSEL’ OF THE LYRIC THEATER
When: Until July 10.
Where: Civic Center Music Room, 201 N Walker.
Tickets and information: https://lyrictheatreokc.com/shows/carousel.