It opens tonight at Timber Lake Playhouse and another show not to miss. “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel” is the fifth show in Season 56 and takes us into yet another realm of theatre responses. We loved “Mary Poppins,” rediscovered familial dysfunction in “Ah, Wilderness!” worshipped every note of “Evita,” laughed ourselves silly through “Scapino!” and now turn our emotional attention to beloved musical ‘Carousel.’
The musical is based on the play “Liliom,” by Ferenc Molnar, considered a “fantasy,” where passions and feelings run rampant like life itself. The carousel runs ‘round and ‘round with seemingly no relief from life’s woes. The old idea from its 1945 premier was but a brief interlude until postwar musicals including “Caberet,” “South Pacific,” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Life’s woes in this show are well-expressed by guest lighting designer James Kolditz whose stars and star-struck ideas enhance the curvy symbol above by set designer Arnel Sancianco. That and the use of TLP’s handy rotating set with Victorian merry-go-round style horses make for pure fantasy.
Artistic Director James Beaudry directs, choreographs and, if that’s not enough, plays the part of heavenly Dr. Seldon in ‘Carousel.’ Huge successes are nothing new to Beaudry following his recent work in “Evita,” last season’s “Titanic,” and a host of other shows in his some sixteen years as one TLP function or another. And he works FAST. It doesn’t take long for the steps to fall from his ideas to the cast. The process can’t take long, because opening always looms at breakneck speed. He feels principled in his choreographic ideas in this show where the original by Agnes de Mille must be honored as historical education to young dancers, yet adds a mix of his own inspirations from his influences elsewhere. The recipe works.
About historical education, Beaudry is right. There are artistic directors out there (I shall not name names) who have already molested old 19th century standbys like “Nutcracker” and “Swan Lake,” for example. If this history gradually fades from our memories, especially our Russian memories, then what will we have left to admire? Generations must preserve at all costs.
For ‘Carousel,” it turns out that Beaudry has one of the most extraordinary collection of talents this season than ever before. Ken Singleton takes the lead in ‘Carousel’ as raucous Billy Bigelow. Singleton has everything it takes to enter the stage assuming the role of anyone, anywhere. He seems bigger than life at every gesture, every violent move, every piece of character within him. He stands still and radiates charm. He moves, he radiates. As a hopeless romantic, he sings, “If I Loved You” as if his baritone depth reaches out to you personally. You might feel your heart beat.
That’s all during Singleton’s stage time. In real time, he says “hello” like nothing is happening. Don’t miss his stage time!
After her mean Irish Jig in “Scapino!” Molly Hernandez fully blooms in “Carousel” as Julie Jordan. Her delicate appearance and delicate delivery of each vibrato carries the role as well cast to be starry-eyed about love and each twist and turn that it delivers. Her duet with Carrie Pipperidge in “You’re A Queer One” merges an exquisite blend with the more opera-trained balance of Kouatchou.
Marcus Martin as Enoch Snow is another singer that blooms fully in this show, if it is appropriate to say that a glorious male voice “blooms.” His previous appearances in “Evita” and “Scapino!” merely whet our appetite for his vocal strengths with a mere few measures. His, “When the Children Are Asleep” and “Stone Cutters Cut It On Stone” in ‘Carousel’ are full-fledged reminders about how strong and impactful the effect of this man’s voice.
And about strong voices, Samantha Bonzi as Nettie Fowler ranks up there with all the best that take on the roles of choral leadership and main parts. She fits aptly as a stage principal with her masterful presence of focus and character.
There’s always a bad boy as Grant Alexander Brown assumes the role of Jigger Craigin. Fittingly, Brown also acts as official fight captain in the show. With his fists, ferociousness, and tough guy attitude, he is right at home as the feisty guy feisting his way around the stage (yes, feisting is a word, just like Brown’s The Three Stooges-esque style in “Scapino!”).
Second Act Pas de Duex by Christopher Kelley as the Carnival Boy and Areo Keller as fifteen-year-old Louise moves stealthily in its fantasy world of lifts and promenades for a convincing dreamlike scene. Elsewhere, Kelley makes his typically precise dance technique work in, “Blow High. Blow Low” as well dance captain along with Keller.
Wonderful dance moves are also not lost on slick Nick Drake and snobbish Charles Mayhew Miller as the Ruffian Boys. When they’re together on the same stage, anything can happen.
In heavenly or earthly roles, Enrique Miguel, Kieran McCabe, Hope Elizabeth Schafer, Levi Skoog, Elya Faye Bottiger, Nissi Shalome Smith, and Sam Columbus join frumpy Kiersten Frunkin as Mrs. Mullin.
Younger and charming ensemble includes Samantha Butts, Terrie Miller, Anna Lindstrom, Cecelia Ryan, Kimzey Spreeman, Kallie Timmons, Myah Ackeberg, Wilson Bressler, Cora Dittmar, Avery Findlay Nikke Honchell, and Avery Moran. A huge note goes to costume gal Emma O’Dell and, I assume, her minor army of seamstresses that go with the effort. This is a period piece, remember. Also Victorian are the waltzy, friendly tunes of Pianoist/conductor Andrew Milliken to set the tone of another era.
Don’t miss “Carousel” and by all means, don’t miss Ken Singleton as Billy Bigelow. It all opens tonight July 27 and runs through August 6, including four 2 p.m. matinees. Evening shows at 7:30 p.m. (No show Monday July 31.) The boonies theatre is a hop, skip and a jump to 8215 Black Oak Road, Mount Carroll. Call the box office at (815) 244-2035 or www.timberlakeplayhouse.org for tickets, group rates and more information. Don’t miss the cash bar before and during the show! Some adult themed language included in the show.