Music by Richard Rodgers, book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, based on the play Liliom by Fereng Molnar – adapted by Benjamin F. Glazer
New Victoria Theatre, Woking, and touring

Production photo

It is interesting that the biographies for the creative team are extensive, covering page after page of the programme, while those for most of the cast are very short, indicating that they are very young, new to the business, and largely untried. Well, the creative team have done a terrific job here – particularly casting. The names might be largely unknown but surely not for long. Every single one is absolutely perfect in their role – acting is superb and singing divine, while set and design left me open-mouthed with amazement, just like the child at the fairground looking up wonder at the ten foot high clown/juggler (Zeph – yes, that is his name) and asking for one of his balloons.

This production hardly puts a foot wrong, from the exhilarating excitement of the fairground through doomed love, domestic violence, unemployment, armed robbery, suicide, a one parent family and life after death before finally revealing a shining hope for a brighter future with You'll Never Walk Alone sung by the whole company.

Set in a small New England coastal town in the eighteen seventies, the opening scene shows the mill girls clocking off from their work to go to the fair, and the fairground is revealed in all its glory and activity. Director Lindsay Posner has created a very slick show, with great attention to detail, such as the burlesque girls showing annoyance when the 'test your strength' machine attracts attention away from them. The men soon drift back! There is a Ferris Wheel slowly turning in the background – but where is the Carousel? Suddenly, and magically, it appears – modern technology knows no bounds – and as it spins faster and faster the dancers leap, run, or are lifted to 'catch' the horses, as The Carousel Waltz plays on and on.

Alexandra Silber as mill girl Julie Jordan manages to brilliantly combine sweet innocent unquestioning love with steely determination – no push-over, she knows what she wants, and even makes the line “If someone you love hits you it doesn't hurt at all” sound almost believable. Her rendition of If I Loved You was so beautiful I was choking back the tears.

The one she loves is Billy Bigelow (Jeremiah James), a 'barker' at the carousel - a rough, tough and handsome guy who loves the ladies and lives his life with no thought for tomorrow and no consideration for anyone but himself, although he proves he does have a heart in the beautifully delivered famous Soliloquy when it suddenly strikes him that the expected baby just might be a girl.

Alan Vicery plays Enoch Snow with just the right entertaining self-righteous pomposity, contrasting nicely with his would-be flighty wife Carrie Pipperidge (Lauren Hood in a delightfully spirited comical interpretation), while Diana Kent is a tough Mrs. Mullin, the carousel owner determined to hang on to her man.

Adam Cooper's choreography is beautifully lyrical for the ballet on the beach, and fun when the boys engage in a rough-and-tumble, but I was slightly disappointed that such a great dancer should not produce something more dynamic and original.

Graham McDuff made such a good job of the villainous Jigger that the audience (spellbound and silent throughout the performance except for the occasional muffled sob) actually booed him at the curtain call. I think he was pleased! The journey across the bay taking him and Bigelow to their planned mugging was another opportunity for the animated projection team, and we travelled with them every stroke of the way – amazing!

Lesley Garrett, fresh from her nun's role in The Sound of Music, was cheered at her first entrance, and she makes a fine aunt Nettie Fowler, cheerful, coquettish, and bursting with enthusiasm and happiness with June is Bustin' Out All Over, while the eighteen piece orchestra, under the baton of David Firman, complete the team making this a top notch show In every respect.

Visually stunning, exceptional acting and glorious music most beautifully sung – a show to appeal to all the senses – truly sensational!

Touring to Plymouth, Wimbledon and Manchester before opening at the Savoy on 22nd November.

Philip Fisher reviewed this production on its transfer to the Savoy

Reviewer: Sheila Connor

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