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

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01 Mar 2013

Nathan Gunn and Kelli O'Hara
Nathan Gunn and Kelli O'Hara
Photo by Chris Lee

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's Carousel, when done well, is one of the true glories of the world of musical theatre. The New York Philharmonic's current concert version, which opened Wednesday and ends a five-performance run on Saturday night, is exceptionally well done.

While this is a scenery-less affair with a certain amount of trimming, no qualifications are necessary. Under the musical direction of Rob Fisher, the Philharmonic offers a full-value and memorable Carousel.

Heading the many assets is the universally fine cast of principals assembled by Fisher and stage director John Rando, led by Kelli O'Hara as Julie Jordan. O'Hara's past performances in musicals including South Pacific and The Light in the Piazza have led us to assume that she'd make a fine Julie, and she sings the role exceptionally well. But it is her acting here, especially in the second act, that gives this Carousel extraordinary power. Baritone Nathan Gunn, of the Met and other opera companies, sings Billy Bigelow as well as you can hope. He doesn't as yet, though, have the dangerous swagger that the role suggests.

Jessie Mueller — who attracted fans with her performances in On a Clear Day and The Mystery of Edwin Drood — makes a delectable Carrie Pipperidge. Her Mr. Snow of the occasion, Jason Danieley (Curtains), sings the role as well as we've ever heard it. He is not exactly right, though, for the staidly priggish sardine magnate who represents everything that Billy Bigelow is not. Shuler Hensley (Oklahoma!) brings his customary skill to the villainous Jigger, while opera house favorite Stephanie Blythe — as Cousin Nettie — shakes the rafters with "June Is Bustin' Out All Over" and envelops the hall with "You'll Never Walk Alone." Kate Burton gives a deliciously vulgar turn as Mrs. Mullin, the carousel owner, while John Cullum — himself a raffish and golden-voiced Billy Bigelow in the 1973 production at Jones Beach — is a great crowd favorite in the twin roles of the Starkeeper and Dr. Seldon.


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