Carousel

Music by Richard Rodgers, book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, based on the play Liliom by Ferenc Molnár as adapted by Benjamin F Glaser
New York Philharmonic
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York
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Jessie Mueller, Kelli O'Hara and Nathan Gunn Credit: Lincoln Center
The Cast of Carousel Credit: Chris Lee

The rescheduled Broadway Friday presentation of Carousel is a star-studded occasion recorded at Lincoln Center.

Presented under the auspices of the New York Philharmonic, rather than a full-scale musical, this is a semi-staged concert production recorded in 2013 that effortlessly crosses over between the worlds of orchestral music, musicals, opera and ballet.

John Rando directs a simple, clear-sighted evening in which riches abound. Before the big names even appear, there is an opportunity to enjoy the New York Phil conducted on stage by Rob Fisher as they play “The Carousel Waltz” and this is a great introduction to 2¼ hours of listening pleasure, proving that a large orchestra can work wonders with familiar classics.

With a gorgeous soprano voice, Kelli O’Hara has proven herself an expert in crossing over between musicals and opera and acquits herself perfectly as shy, loving Julie Jordan.

Sadly for the sweet girl, the man for whom she falls is operatic baritone Nathan Gunn’s swaggering Billy Bigelow, heard at his finest singing “Soliloquy” to his unborn child. It is her misfortune that Billy is an amoral carnival barker whose treatment of his loving wife is as lax as his attitude to the law of the land.

While Jessie Mueller, in the role of an independent girl who knows her mind, Julie’s bold, righteous best friend Carrie, finds love and marriage in the solid form of Jason Daniely’s entrepreneurial Enoch Snow, even rose-tinted glasses cannot help Julie to find harmony with her lazy, violent beau.

As the bittersweet story unfolds, another star from the world of opera, Stephanie Blythe, uses her high-octane mezzo to lead a joyful rendition of “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over” and then excels with the mournful solo “You’ll Never Walk Alone”.

On the acting front, Shuler Hensley, who seems to be a staple in these big Broadway classic musicals, is suitably threatening as Billy’s convict pal Jigger, the kind of man that any wife would fear to see near to her susceptible husband.

As if these weren’t riches enough, a further treat is in store in the form of a dancing tour de force which is by turns vibrant, sensual and witty. This dreamy, unearthly scene choreographed by Warren Carlyle and featuring Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild of the New York City Ballet offers Billy an unlikely chance of redemption by way of his teenaged daughter, Louise.

While the staging is relatively sketchy, the story comes across extremely well and even those very familiar with the musical will still relish the chance to hear the full power of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra supporting both musical and opera stars led by Kelli O’Hara and Nathan Gunn with that added ballet treat in a memorable occasion that richly deserves this lockdown revival.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher