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A CurtainUp London Review
Lovely opera singer Lesley Garrett is the main draw as Nettie Fowler, the mother figure to our heroine, mill girl Julie Jordan (Alexandra Silber) for whom everything seems to take a down turn after she allows a fairground worker put his arm round her waist. Now that part of the plot isn't going to wash with today's generation!
The opening scene has plenty of atmosphere with a man on stilts, burlesque dancers, children in ornate Victorian dresses and everyone trying their luck at the strong arm hammer bell. All the fun of the fair! I must admit disappointment at the computer generated, projected carousel. I know that the carousel only features in the very first scene and that it is the roundabout ups and downs of life which is the musical's theme but I had hoped to see real gallopers instead of people behind the computer generated screen jumping up and down to give the impression that they were on a fairground ride that moves! However, subsequent scenes are not as disappointing. I liked Nettie's wooden restaurant on the beach and the Edward Hopper cliff side backdrop for the reunion scene and the costumes are period and pretty.
The story is of Julie Jordan and Carrie Pipperidge (Lauren Hood) two mill girls and the course their life takes, starting in 1870. Julie is banned from the ride and when fairground barker Billy Bigelow (Jeremiah James) defends her and puts his arm round her waist the carousel owner Mrs Mullin (Diana Kent) gives him the sack. Julie stays out with Billy and loses her job at the mill. At Nettie's spa they celebrate Spring with "June Is Busting Out All Over". Carrie is courted by Enoch Snow who is ambitious.
Julie marries Billy and tells him that she is pregnant. Billy agrees to go with Jigger (Zeph) a whaler and "ne'er-do-well" friend of his on a robbery to get some money to support his family. There is a clambake picnic by the sea for the whole community. At the robbery the victim is pre-warned and shoots Jigger dead and Billy kills himself rather than go to prison and Spa owner Nettie Fowler takes in Julie.
In Act Two we see Billy trying to get into heaven. He is asked to return to earth to put right the wrongs he has left on earth. There he sees his now 17 year old daughter Louise (Lindsey Wise) playing on the beach (the ballet) and being teased by some for her father's disgrace. He makes amends and sings "If I Loved You" to Julie.
The singing is lovely throughout with Lesley Garret's rendering of "You'll Never Walk Alone" surely propelling her to number one choice foropening of the 2012 Olympics. This song has been adopted as the anthem for Liverpool Football Club and the night I saw Carousel I spotted Bill Kenwright, theatre impresario and Chairman of Everton FC, the other Liverpool based club, sitting through the rivals' song!
Alexander Silber has a lovely voice but she does tend to look rather serious and worried even before she is hit by her husband, widowed as he is caught in a criminal act and lives as a single parent with no visible means of support. Jeremiah James is handsome and acts the Bigelow part well but the "Soliloquy" was overly long and rather statically directed. Jigger, is a Dickensian style villain with a battered hat and a tight black suit.
The dance number are choreographed by Adam Cooper but the Savoy's stage is really too small which is a great shame. The whalers look like pirates with bare chests and leather waistcoats and necklaces with amulets and the choreography gets exciting in their all male dance, high stepping in unison or stamping like a folk dance. They get quite athletic with high jumps and flick flacks. The ballet too is a lovely interlude with Louise mixing with beach ruffians and contrasting with small nicely brought up girls lined up in height order and wearing sailor dresses.
I was in two minds about a fellow critic's question as to whether this show with an anti-hero who slaps his wife and hits his daughter had brought a tear to my eyes. Although I am foolishly sentimental, I had to admit that I had surprised myself in the reunion scene between Billy Bigelow and Julie, by having to wipe away tears. "There you are", she said, "the test of a good musical is whether it makes you cry!"
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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