Light Opera Works Carousel Review – Revived and Relevant

On opening night, the audience that filled the house at Cahn Auditorium showed their delight with the Light Opera Works production of Carousel with a standing ovation.  It was a wonderful production. My companion had seen one of the revivals of this musical on Broadway loved it so much that she learned the lyrics to each of the songs.  Her enthusiasm really enhanced my enjoyment.

Record album cover for 1945 production


Light Opera Works is a resident professional not-for-profit music theater in Evanston, Illinois, founded in 1980 with a mission to produce musical theater from a variety of world traditions. In its 30 seasons, Light Opera Works has presented more than 100 productions on its 1,000-seat Main stage and 250-seat Second Stage venues. This provides the opportunity for patrons to experience musical theater the way it should be, with full orchestras, professional performers, and impressive production values, including classic operettas and musicals, which are the foundation of modern musical theater.

Carousel, written by the classic team Rodgers and Hammerstein, opened on Broadway on April 9, 1945, and ran for 890 performances! Oscar Hammerstein II (book and lyrics) adapted Ferenc Molnár's 1909 play Liliom, moving the Budapest setting of Molnár's play to a New England fishing village. The show includes the hit musical numbers "If I Loved You", "June Is Bustin' Out All Over", and "You'll Never Walk Alone".  Carousel was innovative for its time as one of the first musicals to contain a tragic plot.

The carousel comes to life in a wonderful opening scene


It is their most grandly romantic musical and both Rodgers and Hammerstein said it was their favorite collaboration.  In addition, they broke ground with extended music-and-dialogue scenes. Powerful and ironic it continues in many forms (particularly the 1994 revival at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre) such as a Cinemascope 55 film in 1956 and a made-for-television special on videotape in 1967. Time magazine named it the best musical of the 20th century.

Natalie Ford (Julie Jordan) and Cooper David Grodin (Billy Bigelow) meet on the carousel


Carnival barker Billy Bigelow falls for the demure young Julie Jordan, and their love story transcends time and death itself. Years after his death, he is given the chance to return to earth for one day, where he hopes to teach his troubled daughter an all-important lesson about love.  Along the way, real life issues, relevant today, are confronted; marrying young without resources, no jobs, spousal abuse, single parenthood, non-acceptance in a group, anger management and so on.  The ironic contrast of happy people, people who support one another, beautiful upbeat music, and brightly colored costumes with the tragedy unfolding,  is powerful and emotional and leaves few dry eyes at the end.

Natalie Ford (Julie Jordan) and Cooper David Grodin (Billy Bigelow) learn about each other


Carousel is directed and exquisitely choreographed by Stacey Flaster, with music director Roger L. Bingaman conducting the 30-piece orchestra.

Cooper David Grodin (Billy Bigelow) has a wonderful voice and Natalie Ford (Julie Jordan) was the perfect Julie. Elizabeth Lanza (Carrie Pipperidge) has an unusually beautiful voice and her role was very convincing. George Keating (Enoch Snow) handled his comedic role well and had a great voice, and Winifred Faix Brown (Nettie Fowler) brought her vast experience to this role with a vital, charming performance the result.

Ford) and Billy Bigelow (Cooper David Grodin) with the Carousel behind them


The wicked characters, Jeremy Trager (Jigger Craigin) who leads Billy astray and Katherine L. Condit (Mrs. Mullin), a widow who owns the Carousel and wants to keep Billy as a love interest were fitting in their roles.

The sets, staging, singing, dancing, lighting, costuming and acting along with the great orchestra resulted in a terrific production.  I think you will agree.

The design team includes Tom Burch (Scenic), Deborah Lindell and Mealah Heidenreich (Properties), Nikki Delhomme (Costumes), Sienna Macedon (Hair and Make-Up), Andrew Meyers (Lighting), Miles Polaski (Sound), Katie Beeks (Stage Manager) and Paige Keedy (Production Manager).

Cooper David Grodin (Billy Bigelow), Kingsley Day (Heavenly Friend), and Bill Chamberlain (Starkeeper)-Billy returns ti earth


Carousel is Light Opera Works’ second show of 2010. The season will continue with Jones and Schmidt’s I DO! I DO! (October 3 – November 14) and end with Jerry Herman’s HELLO, DOLLY! (December 26 – January 2). Discounted ticket packages are still available. Ticket prices for CAROUSEL range from $32 to $92. Ages 21 and younger are half price. To order tickets, or for more information, call the Light Opera Works box office at (847) 869-6300 or order 24 hours a day online at www.lightoperaworks.com

Cahn Auditorium
600 Emerson Street (at Sheridan)
Evanston, IL

Photos: Courtesy of Light Opera Works

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What is a light opera?
The lines between musicals, light operas, operettas, and operas are very thin, and many shows share elements of multiple categories. Light opera features operatic-style singing with spoken dialogue. Unlike many tragic operas, light opera endings are usually happy or bittersweet, and don’t end in tragedy.

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