New York Philharmonic – Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel [Nathan Gunn & Kelli O’Hara]

A musical in two acts with music by Richard Rodgers to book & lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, based on the play Liliom by Ferenc Molnár [performed using original orchestrations by Don Walker]

Carrie Pipperidge – Jessie Mueller
Julie Jordan – Kelli O’Hara
Mrs. Mullin – Kate Burton
Billy Bigelow – Nathan Gunn
First Policeman – Joseph Torello
David Bascombe – Edward James Hyland
Nettie Fowler – Stephanie Blythe
Enoch Snow – Jason Danieley
Jigger Craigin – Shuler Hensley
Arminy – Christine DiGiallonardo
First Heavenly Friend (Brother Joshua) – J. D. Webster
Starkeeper / Dr Seldon – John Cullum
Louise – Tiler Peck
Carnival Boy – Robert Fairchild
Enoch Snow Jr – Ben Rosenfield
Principal – Glenn Steven Allen
Enoch Snow’s Daughter – Andie Mechanic

Ensemble of Townspeople, Amusement Park Carnies, Youngsters and Seafaring Men

New York Philharmonic
Rob Fisher

John Rando – Director
Allen Moyer – Set Designer
David C. Woolard – Costume Designer
Warren Carlyle – Choreographer
Agnes de Mille – Choreographer (Ballet)
Chad Beguelin – Script Adaptation
Ken Billington – Lighting Designer
Peter Fitzgerald – Sound designer

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 2 March, 2013
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

Carousel, New York Philharmonic. Photograph: Chris LeeRodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel, their second collaboration following Oklahoma!, premiered on Broadway in 1945. Based on the 1909 drama Liliom by Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár, the musical play (the term preferred by the creators) transfers the action from Budapest to the coastline of New England, and chronicles the doomed romance of carousel barker Billy Bigelow and innocent young mill worker Julie Jordan. Billy proves a shiftless and irresponsible husband, but Julie remains faithful to him forever. After Billy meets a tragic end in a botched robbery attempt, he is given one chance to redeem himself by delivering hope to the daughter he has never known and whispering the words he has never spoken to Julie. The score includes some of Rodgers’s loveliest music, including one of the most celebrated show-tunes of all time, ‘If I Loved You’.

Carousel, New York Philharmonic. Photograph: Chris LeeThe New York Philharmonic has performed selections from Carousel since 1946, and the show has been revived in New York several times, but this is the first time in almost two decades that the full work has been performed in Lincoln Center. The last was in 1994 when Nicholas Hytner’s production (originally staged at the National Theatre in London in 1992) came to the Vivian Beaumont Theater and went on to win copious awards.

Musically, Carousel is a masterpiece. While the script dwells on the more fanciful aspects of Billy and Julie’s tragic story, and the lyrics betray more than a hint of datedness, the brilliance of the score is undeniable, especially when played by as splendid and gorgeous-sounding orchestra as the New York Philharmonic, and sung by such an extraordinary cast, a uniformly talented group of singers.

Carousel, New York Philharmonic. Photograph: Chris LeeNathan Gunn brought his strong lyric baritone and matinee-idol looks to the challenging role of Billy. Handsome, rough-talking and vain, he is also endowed with a violent streak, a quick-tempered loser who slaps his wife and is conned into committing a petty crime for quick money. But he is also a shy and yearningly introspective soul who gives full voice to his dreams and self-doubts in the marathon ‘Soliloquy’ which ends the first Act. Through Gunn’s note-perfect singing and effective dramatic interpretation of Hammerstein’s stirring lyrics, an impetuous lout is transformed into a lost, desperate man searching for the right to be happy.

Kelli O’Hara (in the recent revival of South Pacific at Lincoln Center, and taking a break from her current run on Broadway in Nice Work If You Can Get It) was a lovely and especially vulnerable Julie, at her best in a gently resigned rendition of ‘What’s the Use of Wond’rin’?’ in Act Two, and a perfect match for Gunn. Their 12-minute-long ‘bench scene’ in which the shy young couple tentatively explore their feelings for each other, and which leads into ‘If I Loved You’, managed to be tenderly affecting without being mawkish, and was the emotional highpoint of the evening.

The rest of the cast featured an array of splendid singers and actors. Standouts include Jessie Mueller as a fresh and spontaneous Carrie, and Jason Danieley who made a particularly handsome and strong-voiced Mr. Snow. As Jigger, Shuler Hensley was more an incompetent idler than a villain. As Julie’s cousin Nettie Fowler, Stephanie Blythe was ideally cast. She displayed a wonderful exuberance and warmth, using her lush mezzo to enormous effect in ‘June is Bustin’ Out All Over’ and delivering a powerful (but not overpowering) ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.

Another notable performance was given by New York City Ballet principal dancer Tiler Peck, who portrayed Julie and Billy’s fifteen-year-old daughter Louise. In the ‘fantasy ballet’ in Act Two (in its original choreography by Agnes de Mille), she was as sublime as the music, expressing wonder, fear and joy as she danced gracefully back and forth across Avery Fisher Hall’s wide stage.

Conducted by Rob Fisher, the New York Philharmonic musicians delivered Rodgers’s radiantly romantic score with great passion and warmth. And Allen Moyer’s handsome and simply designed set with its five graceful carousel horses suspended over the stage, along with John Rando’s sensitive direction, enhanced the music’s enchanting and enduring charms.

  • Previous performances on March 27, 28 and March 1
  • Broadcast on April 26, 2013 on PBS “Live from Lincoln Center”
  • New York Philharmonic

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