By Christopher Heide
A classic musical meets modernity in the 5th Avenue Theatre's current rendition of Rogers and Hammerstein's Carousel. Fresh and exciting, this vibrant retelling is infused with a tempestuous and crackling energy, that purposefully captivates it's audience. In its 4th collaboration with Spectrum Dance Theater, this 5th avenue is edgy, modern and visually compelling. It is an interesting juxtaposition of a classic, beloved story and brilliant, contemporary choreography.
“This is truly one of the most beautiful musicals written by Rodgers & Hammerstein,” said 5th Avenue Theatre Executive Producer and Artistic Director, David Armstrong. “To truly do it justice, you have to commit to putting the finest talent onstage and the finest musicians in the pit, and I believe we have done just that. Between stars like Laura and Brandon portraying these rich and vital characters, Spectrum dancers performing Donald’s choreography, and a 21-piece orchestra bringing this vibrant score to life, Carousel will be a gem not to be missed.”
Indeed the show is quite a sight to be seen.
Both leads are equally compelling and nuanced in their performances. Laura Griffith stars Julie Jordan, one half of the doomed relationship at the center of the Carousel story. Griffith brings a likable native and alluring stubbornness to her character. Her portrayal of Jordan is haunting, nuanced and entirely likable; despite some of her character's questionable choices. Griffith has previous starred in several 5th Avenue shows, as well as a few Broadway productions.
The other half of this doomed pairing includes Brandon O’Neill as the contemptuous Billy Bigalow. A womanizing, arrogant character, Bigalow is Carousel's resident bad-boy. A lesser actors portrayal could have pushed Bigalow's characterization into a campy territory. While O'Neill definitely pushes that line, he never fully crosses into that fully realized frat-boy territory. Because O'Neill holds back just enough, the audience is able to invest in his character and the toxic paring between Julie and Billy.
The true star of the show is Spectrum Dance Theater. In all honestly, despite contemporary themes of love and loss, if done true to form, Carousel is a rather dated musical. Under the tutelage of choreographer Donald Byrd, Carousel is a masterclass of contemporary dance. The two best scenes in the show occur without any dialogue. To open the first act, Byrd crafted a brilliant ten minute sequence depicting the joviality and excitement of a carnival. His choreography expertly captures the excitement of the scene, without any relevant dialogue being spoken.
The true showstopper, however, occurs late in the second act. Featuring Madelyn Koch as Louise, Julie and Billy's daughter, the sequence is almost a maudlin mini-ballet. Through Koch's expressive movements, the audience is able to gain a palpable empathy for the turmoil that Louise experiences. Again, the choreography is inventive and unique, truly telling a story. It's a rare feat for a musical to successfully include two full sense without any spoken dialogue. It's simply mesmerising that Carousel is able to accomplish such an endeavor.
Overall, Carousel is an incredibly polished production and yet another winner for the 5th Avenue Theatre's dynamic repertoire.