A few minutes into the first act of “Carousel” at North Fork Community Theatre in Mattituck we find Billy Bigelow, bad boy, and Julie Jordan, good girl, alone together for the first time, both fired from their jobs and homeless because of an overwhelming urge to — well, hang out. But composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II come to their rescue with a song, “If I Loved You,” in which they tentatively, gradually, take it to the next level.
They fall in love while they sing the song, they fall in love because they sing the song. This is what musical theater is about — the discovery and development of emotions through music, expressing feelings you don’t even know you have until you start singing or dancing them. Or hearing them.
The seven-minute-plus “Soliloquy” (Rodgers himself called his score operatic) with which Billy ends Act I is another example of emotional development taking place before our eyes and ears as he assimilates the news of his impending fatherhood and takes unexpected responsibility for it, ironically setting him on a path that leads to — well, go see the show and find out.
The story line of “Carousel” is romantic, tragic, fantastical, joyful, absurd — all that and more — and provides Rodgers and Hammerstein with context for some of the most well-loved music of the musical theater, and some highly motivated characters to put it out there.
Julie’s bubbly friend Carrie is busy with her more predictable — and comedic — life, marrying her Mr. Snow and cheerfully raising nine (count ’em, and you can!) children; her songs are more defining than revelatory (“You’re A Queer One, Julie Jordan/Mister Snow” and “When the Children Are Asleep,” sung with Mister Snow himself). Nettie Fowler, the wise older lady (there’s one in every R&H show), sings two of the show’s biggest numbers, “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” There’s villain Jigger Craigin, who leads a pair of burly-whaler songs and leads Billy astray. And Louise, the young daughter, a wild child who is ostracized by the other children and whose predicament literally brings Billy down to earth.
Here are some of the evening’s highlights for me:
The various ensembles are terrific. The men are at their lusty best in “Blow High, Blow Low” and “Stonecutters Cut It on Stone” and the joy with which the whole company gets down with Leslie Luxemburg’s Nettie for “June is Bustin’ Out All Over,” “This Was a Real Nice Clambake” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” comes at you in waves.
Becca Mincieli captures both the innocence and the independence of Julie, and lends her a sweet and true voice (“What’s the Use of Wondrin’? ”). Amanda Mouzakes’ Carrie owns the stage. Nate Kalich as Enoch Snow and Bill Kitzerow as Jigger have solid voices and personalities. Lily Spellman, a young dancer of considerable poise and presence, is a knockout as Louise.
Matthew Gardiner gives Billy a touch of uncertainty under the swagger, which makes this difficult hero a bit easier to like, and his “Soliloquy” has real dramatic intensity and is vocally sustained, although not always as easily heard as fully as one would wish.
This “Carousel” has the added excitement of a pit band of a dozen or so musicians, but there’s no pit, so the players are off to the side of, and close to, the audience, resulting in acoustical issues that sometimes make it hard for some of the singers to be heard in full.
“Carousel” opened on Broadway just weeks before the end of World War II, and its timeless music lives on. Rodgers is on record as having named it his favorite among his shows. In 1999, Time magazine said it was the greatest musical of the 20th century. It’s known to be a tough show to produce because of the odd, dark story and the very high quality (read difficulty) of the music.
So it is with admiration that I congratulate NFCT on having nerves steady enough to take it on, and kudos to director David Markel and music director Pat Wall for putting it up there, keeping it fresh and giving the performers the guidance they count on.
This is a fine show and a must-see for anyone who enjoys classic musical theater and basking in the glory of some of its greatest songs.