Friday, March 22, 2013

KC Repertory "Carousel" review by BobEvans

CAROUSEL revisited Rating: 5

Kansas City Repertory Theatre

If the Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRea movie of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel is one of your all time favorites, chances are you will not appreciate the re-tooled version of the classic to appeal to more modern audiences.

If, however, you are open minded, be sure to check out the Kansas City Repertory Theater's version of Carousel and see a show so different from what you expect. Historically, The Living Room produced the classic with innovative style and changes about two years ago. The show drew the attention of the REP and talks began to recreate The Living Room's version of the classic, but staged and presented by the Rep in its theater. But, to recreate the new version, the REP had to redesign their entire stage and seating. And wow, what a transition. Instead of seeing the ample stage and terraced seating, ushers escort patrons onto what was the original stage and also escort patrons through back stage corridors to find seats. Gone are the terraced seats, and four new sections are positioned on the actual stage. Two additional sections replace the area where the orchestra seating formerly lay.

Carousel puts the audience directly in the performance space. The show, performed in the round uses all aisles as entrance and exit areas for the actors as they work through the show. Should a patron need to leave during the performance, he or she is actually in the performance areas.

To be more earthy and realistic, the high soprano strains of the characters of Julie and Carrie have been lowered an octave. The booming baritone of Billy has also been lowered some as well. The vocals now resemble more real persons and not near operetta-style performances. That alone gives the show a well-needed shot in the arm. Similarly, costumes now reflect the styles one would see on a coastline fishing village. And, the clothes look like what normal people would wear. The set is void of extravagant props and no carousel is ever seen in this production.

With the show performed in the round, the audience feels like it is actually inside the show. But, even with the innovate re-tooling of the show, the story line remains weak. While audiences remember the musical score of the show, the music does not match the story. The musical score is light and the story is darker. The long anticipated resolution remains weak as it does in the original story. But, that's the flaw in the original script, not a weakness of the production. The REP does a wonderful job of interpreting Carousel, and it should not be missed.

To reflect the popularity of Carousel, the Rep already announced extended performances. Some shows are already at capacity and others are filling fast. Call soon or take the chance of missing the production.

As for the acting, rest assured the casting by The Living Room remains mostly intact with only a few replacements of some smaller parts due to scheduling conflicts. Strong performances come from the principals, as expected from a carefully selected, well-seasoned cast. Molly Denningoff portrays Julie Jordan with a confidence found lacking in other versions of the show. Liz Clark portrays the simple-minded Carrie with less naivety than the better known screen version. Both ladies deliver strong acting and vocal skills. And, Katie Gilchrist consistently brings strong characterization and vocal performance to every performance. Expect no less in this version.

As for the male leads, Rusty Sneary gives the character of Billy more grit than other versions. While he is the "hero" of the story, he is a bad man that makes bad choices. Sneary threads the needle with his characterization and allows some of Billy's bad decisions to play larger while minimizing some of Billy's fatal faults to soften the character. Vocally, he matches the revised show with less grand, operetta-like vocals. His acting and vocals match well with this production. Kyle Hatley portrays an unnamed God-like character that helps guide Billy to repent of worldly faults. Uncredited in the program, Hatley provides pivotal interventions in Act II and moves the show toward its resolution. Though a smaller part, his expertise and delivery of the part stand apart from most of the cast.

Overall, expect not a traditional Rodgers and Hammerstein show. Go in open minded and enjoy a performance that would please the originators. They could never envision what the combined efforts of The Living Room and The Kansas City Repertory Theaters created.

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