“Carousel” is the third show in the Lyric Opera’s multi-year salute to Rodgers and Hammerstein. The previous shows were “Oklahoma” and “The Sound of Music.” (Half of this dynamic duo was represented in the Lyric’s 2012 production of “Show Boat.”) Both productions were epic, beautifully done productions. However, there’s no denying that with the help of director Rob Ashford, and some serious Broadway star power,”Carousel” has taken the Lyric’s musical theater game to a whole new level.
To say that this is a beautiful production doesn’t quite do it justice. The original choreography by Agnes de Mille is breathtaking, and flawlessly executed. The set designed by artist Paolo Ventura is stunning, but simple. It’s grand scale is befitting of the theater and the production. You’d never guess this was Ventura’s theatrical debut. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the amazing lighting design by Neil Austin. Even if you’re not one to gush over the technical aspects of a show, it’s hard not to notice the particularly stunning lighting during the opening pantomime, “Soliloquy,” and the death scene.
Then there’s the casting: Stephen Pasquale, Laura Osnes, Charlotte D’Amboise, and those are just the headliners. Jenn Gambatese, Matthew Hydzick, Jarrod Emmick, Tony Roberts, and opera star Denyce Graves round out an incredible cast. This would be a dream cast on Broadway. The fact that this is the cast for a stand-alone, regional production in Chicago is almost unbelievable.
Of course, what makes this show a beloved classic is the music. “Carousel” contains some of the most well-known songs in musical theater—“If I Loved You,” “June is Bustin’ Out All Over,” “Mr. Snow,” “Soliloquy,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” These are staples and this enormous cast, and the always spectacular Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra truly make them soar. There were a few standouts, of course. The incredible chemistry between Billy Bigelow (Stephen Pasquale) and Julie Jordan (Laura Osnes) right out of the gate with “If I Loved You” showcases the incredible vocal power of both of these stars. It’s breathtaking, but the full power of Stephen Pasquale’s voice shows up just before intermission with some “pin you to the back of your seat” power belting in a heart-wrenching performance of “Soliloquy.” We dare you not to cry.
The show is 70 years old (today actually, Happy Birthday “Carousel”!), and its age shows at times. There are some dated notions and themes that could use a bit of modernization. However, what this production does beautifully, with the help of Ashford’s direction and the choreography, is bring out the darker undertones of the original musical.
We won’t lie, and say that all of the shortcomings of this original musical have been magically cured, but it’s a testament to the strength of this cast and the design of this production, that by the time the curtain goes down any faults are not only forgiven, but forgotten too.
If you are a fan of classic musicals executed perfectly, and have the opportunity to see this show, take it.