By Nora Dominick ‘17/ Emertainment Monthly Assistant Stage Editor
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II are easily the most iconic duo in musical theatre history. Through their collaboration they created eleven Broadway musicals that continue to be revived to this day. From South Pacific to Oklahoma!, their music is iconic and has transcended generations. One musical in particular is witnessing an extravagant revival and on its seventieth birthday nonetheless. Lyric Opera’s recent revival of Carousel is taking the Broadway community by storm– and it’s not even in NYC.
Carousel tells the story of the carefree carnival barker, Billy Bigelow and the naive, quiet mill worker, Julie Jordan. The duo partake in a classic love story: they fall in love, get married and fall on tough times. Their stormy relationship gives way to unbearable loss and tragedy however, the power of love prevails as they attempt to mend old wounds from years gone by. What happens is a masterful portrayal of love, loss and forgiveness. Carousel features music, lyrics and a book by Rodgers and Hammerstein and is based on the 1909 Ferenc Molnár play Lilion.
Carousel has been revived several times on Broadway since its original production in 1945, but it’s most memorable and influential version was in 1994 at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre in NYC. Directed by Nicholas Hytner, this revival exceeded all expectations and was filled to the brim with talent. The revival featured Michael Hayden as Billy, Sally Murphy as Julie and newcomer Audra McDonald as Carrie Pipperidge. An unknown performer at the time, McDonald blew audiences away with her incredible voice and exceptional acting skills. This only being her 2nd Broadway show, McDonald made an impression that continues to follow her to this day. Her work in Carousel would lead to her first ever Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. Carousel also went onto win a total of five Tony Award including McDonald’s. It walked away with Best Choreography, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Scenic Design, Best Featured Actress in a Musical and Best Revival of a Musical. The 1994 revival made a lasting impression on musical theatre fans and it continues to be the standard for an impeccable revival.
More recently, Carousel took on the form of a concert in 2013 presented by The New York Philharmonic. If any rendition of Carousel would ever come close to the 1994 revival, this concert event was that. Starring Nathan Gunn as Billy, five-time Tony Award nominee Kelli O’Hara as Julie, Tony Award winner Jessie Mueller as Carrie and Stephanie Blythe as Nettie, Carousel exceeded all expectations and helped introduce this iconic musical to a new generation. The concert event was filmed as part of the PBS series “Live from Lincoln Center.” Since this event, fans of Carousel have been anxiously awaiting another revival and Lyric Opera’s version may just be what fans have been praying for.
Lyric Opera in Chicago’s production of Carousel is directed/choreographed by Rob Ashford (Thoroughly Modern Millie) and features an extraordinary cast of Broadway and overall theatre veterans. Starring in this marvelous production are Steven Pasquale as Billy and two-time Tony Award nominee Laura Osnes as Julie. The duo is delivering career-defining performances as they create the kind of chemistry only seen in fairy tales. Both actors are no strangers to the spotlight but this rendition of Carousel may shoot them to full-blown Broadway stardom. From the moment they lock eyes during “Carousel Waltz” their chemistry is unmatchable. Pasquale and Osnes create a show that is already Tony Award worthy.
Laura Osnes is no stranger to Broadway. After winning NBC’s reality show Grease: You’re The One That I Want!, Osnes shot to Broadway fame. She’s starred in Grease, South Pacific, Anything Goes, Bonnie and Clyde and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Her work as Bonnie Parker in Bonnie and Clyde earned her a very well deserved first Tony Award nomination and showed a darker side to “Broadway’s Princess.” Her vocals on the eleventh hour number, “Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad” are career defining. Most recently, Osnes went back to her princess roots and starred in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, for which she received her 2nd Tony Award nomination. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s music seems to have been tailored made for Osnes. Whenever she sings one of their iconic songs, audiences and critics everywhere can’t help but swoon. This trend continues with Carousel. Her ability to navigate the dark world Julie is thrust into brings a level of intrigue to this doomed relationship. Osnes impresses once again with her rendition of “What’s the Use of Wond’rin” and her immaculate duet with Pasquale during “If I Loved You.” If Carousel makes the leap to Broadway there is sure to be another Tony Award nomination in Osnes’ future.
If Steven Pasquale could sing the phonebook, women everywhere would swoon and pay to listen. Pasquale introduced Broadway to his unbeatable talent in Jason Robert Brown’s masterpiece The Bridges of Madison County in 2014. He showed the world his incredible singing voice in the Act Two number “It All Fades Away,” which earned him a rousing standing ovation night after night. Pasquale lends his incredible voice to Billy perfectly. His rendition of “Soliloquy” is intoxicating and could rival his vocal performance in The Bridges of Madison County. Osnes and Pasquale have legendary chemistry and the two of them need to run to Broadway as fast as possible.
The leads are supported by a soon-to-be legendary ensemble starting off with Jenn Gambatese as Carrie Pipperidge. Gambatese previously played the role in Goodspeed Opera House’s revival in 2012. Rounding out the cast are Matthew Hydzik as Enoch Snow, Tony winner Jarrod Emick as Jigger Cragin and Broadway veteran Charlotte d’Amboise as Mrs. Mullin.
So, what makes this version of Carousel Broadway worthy? Rob Ashford’s direction and choreography brings out the darker undertones of the musical, which is something that hasn’t been seen before. He embraces the Great Depression feeling and although at points it feels a bit over used, it still provides a different spin on this classic musical. The set design by Paolo Ventura is also astounding. He embraces the theme of the carousel and brings it home. Some sets are simplistic while others are lavish and it allows the characters to pop in each setting. The direction, choreography and set design may elevate Carousel however, it’s Osnes and Pasquale who carry the production on their backs and make it Broadway-ready. This revival is as perfect as it’s going to get and Broadway fans everywhere deserve to witness true, career-defining, history in the making by this duo. In one word, Lyric Opera’s revival of Carousel is legendary.