by Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II
directed by Alan Patrick Kenny
Tonight we drink the aged, vintage wine from the old oak barrels. When the pinnacle of musical theater is offered, drink heartily. Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel is among the select group of musicals near the top of a golden age. UW-Stevens Point’s Carousel was the best night of theater I’ve seen this year. This is a production that gets all the important things right, even down to the Maine dialect that my brother-in-law in Ogunquit would recognize.
The revolving stage at the Jenkins Theater works. The performance space is a large semi-circle, at times some performers' backs are towards you, especially if your seat is off to the side. I adjusted to this in the opening moments, and came to appreciate seeing members of the ensemble closer than I otherwise would as they slowly rotated towards me. The staging put more of a spotlight on the supporting cast, and there were many, many strong performances in the company.
Abbey Immer, as Julie Pipperidge and Krystina Hawkinson as Nettie Fowler were the best singers. Hawkinson led the company is one of the best "June is Bustin' Out All Over's" I'd heard in years. The cast was full of other little delights. Nick Wheeler's first appearance as Enoch Snow looks as though he, indeed, spent some time in the shallows with the sardines. Jalen Johnson played the mill owner David Bascombe perfectly, stern but not heavy. Hanna Gaffney found the right balance as the widowed carousel owner. Her proposition to her ex-barker wasn't full of desperation; it was a business deal -- the kind that is easily left behind when a deeper, more emotional love is in play.
Carousel is rich with all the themes that make for great musical theater – reckless love, suspense, slightly implausible intervention, and, at last, redemption. The gift of Carousel is the way we are piece-by-piece drawn into caring about a character who isn’t likable. Carousel's score and book give Billy Bigelow the building blocks to win us over. But it still takes a highly skilled actor to pull it off. Bryce Dutton was a worthy star. He filled the stage with his inflated ego, but held just enough back so the audience realized that it's the only type of flirting Billy Bigelow knows.
Photos by Doug Moore