A Memorable Carousel, Starring Kelli O'Hara and Nathan Gunn

By Steven Suskin
01 Mar 2013

Jessie Mueller and Jason Danieley
Photo by Chris Lee
The score sounds glorious under Fisher's baton. Don Walker's original orchestration seems not to have been heard locally in full force since 1966, and it fills the Philharmonic auditorium like it belongs there. Rodgers originally insisted on an oversized-for-Broadway pit of 39 players. Here we get 71, with the string section augmented from 22 to a full 50. Thus, a rare opportunity to hear Carousel in extra-special splendor. The orchestra goes unmiked; the cast is necessarily amplified to fill Avery Fisher Hall, although Ms. Blythe — for one — doesn't seem to need any wiring whatsoever. Let it be added that the chorus of 32 is well-trained and well-directed.

Key to the evening's success is the handling of the critical second act Ballet, in which Billy returns to earth to watch his teenage daughter's struggle as the outcast child of a thief. Tiler Peck dances Louise, while Robert Fairchild partners her in the exquisite Pas de Deux on the beach. The two dancers, on loan from the New York City Ballet, do wonderfully well. The work by choreographer Warren Carlyle (Follies) is impressive considering the lack of dancing space, rehearsal time, and a dedicated dance corps. The Ballet is slightly truncated — it's hard to stage the sections for the six children of Mr. Snow with only one little girl — but it's nevertheless a treat to hear the (almost) whole thing. The other two major dance sections in the show — the Girls' Dance that caps the "June" number and the extended "Sailor's Hornpipe" — are cut altogether, as is the Entr'acte.

Carousel marked a substantial step forward when it first appeared at the Majestic in 1945. Hammerstein's Show Boat and Oklahoma! had both added serious elements to the musical theatre by intertwining harsh storylines into their respective plots, but both remained basically colorful, upbeat entertainments. Carousel — with its story of a pre-doomed marriage ending in the hero's suicide — marked a new level for serious musical theatre. The artistic and commercial success of the show led directly to the authors' South Pacific and The King and I, but also to such later musicals as West Side Story and Sweeney Todd. While many so-called groundbreakers tend to lose their initial power as the field advances over the decades, Carousel fully retains its magic — as was demonstrated by the Avery Fisher audience awash with tears during the latter parts of the evening. The performance will be telecast on April 26 on "Live From Lincoln Center," but true musical theatre fans will want to catch it live at Lincoln Center if at all possible.

Performances continue through March 2. For tickets, priced $65, visit nyphil.org or phone (212) 875-5656.

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Tiler Peck and Nathan Gunn
Photo by Chris Lee