In these days when shows by Gilbert & Sullivan have all but disappeared from the local amateur repertoire and ‘old-school’ musicals by the likes of Rodgers & Hammerstein are all too rarely staged locally, this production – as part of the venue’s annual Summer Youth scheme – was a most welcomed revival of an old favourite from the amateur musical theatre canon (although the company has beaten Broadway to it, as a Stateside revival of this show is now set for 2018!).
Not having watched Carousel for some time, it is frightening just how quickly it has aged in recent years as a story, because this tale with its hint of domestic violence and about a young man who has been spending his life picking up impressionable young girls, is certainly no longer politically correct by today’s standards.
From its visually attractive opening to its beautiful picture ending, this gentle and unassuming production was a clear retelling of the story of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic American musical, spanning heaven and earth in its exploration of human frailty, resilience and the power of forgiveness, as carnival barker and petty criminal, Billy Bigelow, returns to earth to make amends with his family.
I loved the production branding extending to its performance with the logo brightly projected onto both the front screen and back cyc before curtain-up and the opening scene during the Prologue with carnival horses moving effortlessly around the carousel and other activity perfectly creating a fairground atmosphere.
Indeed, Director, Anna McNamara, and Assistant director and Movement Director, Anna Tringham, worked as one throughout to ensure that everything about this show was pleasing to the eye with movement and cast positioning always being both perfect and natural.
The seemingly simple staging was made possible by the beautiful wood-based set with its well-used central rostrum and sloping platforms providing interesting and varied performance heights for all.
This, together with the warm and colourful lighting and modest costuming, made this old show immediately attractive to the many who would be first timers to the piece.
Under the expert musical direction of Conor Mitchell, the 14 piece orchestra – a mix of professional and student players (continuing the training process of this annual project into the performance of the score) – set its own high standard early during the Prologue’s Carousel Waltz Suite.
Musical highlights included: the excellent Soliloquy, which revealed Billy’s sensitive side; A Real Nice Clambake, which displayed good choral work, especially for such a relatively small and young ensemble; and Nettie’s impressive take on You’ll Never Walk Alone.
Indeed, how refreshing it was to see and hear a new generation of very young performers singing the wonderfully melodic songs of Rodgers & Hammerstein.
Billy Bigelow was extremely well played here by vastly-skilled performer, Darren Franklin, who was also a very controlled singer, and his experience really shone through.
So, the other members of the young cast, especially Sophie Patterson, who played his wife, Julie Jordan, did well performing opposite him.
Patterson displayed clear vocals in both speech and song (especially during If I Loved You) and remained delightfully naïve in character throughout.
Her friend from the mill, Carrie Pipperidge, was a romantic dreamer and this was well captured by Claire Whitehead in this role, especially during her song, Mister Snow.
Rebecca Pendleton, as Nettie Fowler, provided maternal-like support throughout, with her rendition of the show’s best-known song, You’ll Never Walk Alone, earning loud applause.
While the ensemble all worked hard, Callum Wright, as the Starkeeper, and both young Katie Walker and Philippa Cummings, as the little Heavenly Friends, are all worthy of special mention, as each turned in confident performances in supporting roles.
In terms of performance, both the death and the return to earth scenes were well realised and Billy and Julie’s first lingering kiss was a believable start to their ill-fated romance, while the extended silence of both when Billy heard the news of Julie’s pregnancy was a pivotal theatrical moment before Billy revealed his caring and sensitive side for the first time.
An interesting touch of this production was the show’s famous ballet scene, which was performed so well by two professional ballet dancers, Ruaidhri Maguire from Opera Baltycka W Gdansku, and Kanako Nagayoshi from Ballet Jorgen Canada, supported by young dancers from Laura Walker’s Ballet School.
If you have never before experienced the joys of Carousel, then why not give this one a spin?
The Theatre at The Mill Summer Youth Production
Theatre at Mill, Newtownabbey
Tue 1-Sat 5 Aug 2017