It's been nearly 25 years since Rodgers and Hammerstein's “Carousel” has come around on Broadway. And good reason... the last production featuring a young Audra McDonald set the bar pretty high. And while the current revival doesn't measure up in some ways, it makes up for it in others - starting with that glorious score.
With an orchestra numbering more than two dozen musicians, it is pure ear candy once the overture swells. Somewhat disappointing is what meets the eye, with design elements that scream low budget. The choreographed open introducing the carousel features a single horse off to the side, and some of the costume choices were head scratching.
But back to the sound. This is a beautifully sung production. All of the principal performers are in sublime voice. Let's start with Joshua Henry as anti-hero Billy Bigelow, the charismatic carnival barker who hits his adoring wife. It's a role made even more challenging in today’s cultural climate. His one shot at redemption comes at the end of the first act performing “Soliloquy,” in which the brute gets to show a heart. Henry delivers big here, bringing the house down with his commanding performance.
Jessie Mueller is also quite wonderful with her pristine soprano and lovely, underplayed turn as the headstrong Julie Jordan. Lindsay Mendez as Carrie Pipperidge is most impressive as well, showing off her golden pipes and fine comic chops. And as her straight arrow suitor Mr. Snow, Alexander Gemignani is marvelous. A special bonus is the addition of opera star Renee Fleming lending incredible power to that rousing anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
Choreographer Justin Peck brought in some of his dancers from the NYC Ballet; and while thrilling to watch - check out “Blow High Blow Low” - it’s clear compromises in casting had to be made.
Jack O’Brien’s direction is rather inconsistent, with some bizarre choices. But the show’s bones are incredibly strong. And with a superb company of actors, dancers and musicians, this is still a “Carousel” worth a mighty spin.