The best new musical revival on Broadway is not on Broadway at all. It is actually across the plaza from the Vivian Beaumont Theatre in Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall. The musical is “Carousel” which is currently running a very limited engagement with the New York Philharmonic, and staring a variable “Who’s Who” of the theatre and opera worlds. Nathan Gunn and Kelli O’Hara (also currently in “Nice Work if You Can Get It”) play our hero and heroine, respectively, and are supported by a remarkable line up of talent that left this examiner in awe of the events that had unfolded on the evening of Feb 28.
Being that musical theatre is not of the examiner’s forte, I will focus the attention of this column on its vocal and musical qualities. Of which, I am happy to report, was the highest quality that has ever tread the boards.
For a full synopsis of the story, click here.
Operatic baritone Nathan Gunn portrayed the vile and misunderstood character of Billy Bigelow, the love interest of Julie Jordan. There were several moments in the piece where his singing ability out shined his acting ability. But with a voice of solid gold, one needn’t much else. That is not to say the acting was sub par, or unrealistic, it is just easy to spot an opera singer in a musical show. If you have not experienced this, it will be hard to explain. However, Mr. Gunn brought down the house at the end of Act I with his visceral interpretation of “Soliloquy.” A benchmark that was also reached in the middle of Act II after “The Highest Judge of All.” His voice shook like thunder in this fiery portrayal of a man at the end of his rope, yet flexed the deepest of sensitivities in the portions dealing with his daughter; a ballet duet choreographed by Warren Carlyle and performed by Robert Fairchild and Tiler Peck that will bring you to tears. If it does not, then you do not have a heart. It was some of the most powerful ballet I have ever seen onstage.
Kelli O’Hara played our “queer” Julie Jordan. Ms. O’Hara possessed the perfect balance of youthful ignorance while combating that with the wisdom of her gender. Her most powerful work came right before “You’ll Never Walk Alone” where she is finally able to tell Billy that she loves him. Again, if you do not cry, there is no salvation for you. Another stand out was the plaintive realness in her “What’s the Use of Wond’rin?” The way she sings “If I Loved You” is unlike any version I have ever heard. She brought such depth to her character without compromising the age aspect. It really was one of the most special events that this examiner will not soon forget.
Playing a role unlike any we have ever seen her in was operatic mezzo soprano Stephanie Blythe. Ms. Blythe had never sounded better belting “June is Busting Out All Over” to a packed house that ate it all up willingly. Her character was so full of spunk, and her voice as warm as ever. She seemed quite at home in such a role like this. Perhaps will might see her in the footlights of another theater closer to 42nd street sooner rather than later? This examiner certainly hopes so.
Our pair of lovers, Carrie and Mr. Snow were played by Jessie Mueller and Jason Danieley, respectively. Ms. Mueller made her New York Philharmonic debut with this role. One she plays slightly overly energetic, but with a sweet, smooth brassiness and comedic wit to match Mr. Danieley’s Mr. Snow. A role he plays with a gorgeously soaring tenor voice that pours out into the house beautifully. His best working came just after the second act lost a bit of its steam with “Geraniums in the Winder.”
Rounding the cast theatrically were Tony award nominee and winners John Cullum, Kate Burton (who both made their Philharmonic debut), and Shuler Hensley.
The New York Philharmonic was red hot with the music of Richard Rogers. The overture alone could be a piece on an upcoming concert of symphonic pieces. Rob Fisher held the whole thing together beautifully from the stand. Our director, John Rando, kept the staging simple, but effective. Moving the characters in and out of the stage and scenes almost like the breaking motion of waves. Because that’s what this story is about: Life, living, and moving on. Always forward regardless of strife or obstacle. To “walk on through the rain with hope in your heart.”
It is a crying shame this will only run through Saturday. Do yourself a favor and see this production. You will leave Lincoln Center emotionally drained and wanting for nothing.
For more information about the Philharmonic, click here.
For more information about Nathan Gunn, click here.
For more information about Kelli O’Hara, click here.
For more information about Stephanie Blythe, click here.
For more information about Jason Danieley, click here