herald

Saturday 3 December 2016

REVIEW

BORD GAIS ENERGY THEATRE

The greatest musical of the 20th century? That's what Time magazine called Carousel back in 1999. We might have to pull them up on that statement.

More of a far-reaching operatic piece than a jazz-hands-and-show-tunes kinda deal, Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1945 classic is given something of an awkward makeover in this extravagant new production that utilises every bell, whistle and blossom to make up for the fact that, well, Carousel is a terribly old-fashioned piece of work.

Based on the 1909 Hungarian play, Liliom, in which a troubled, loved-up carnival worker takes his own life and ends up mulling things over in purgatory, Carousel's descent into bonkersville has to be seen to be believed.

But sweet mother of all things holy, it takes an awful long time (160 minutes in total) to do its thing.

The staging is nothing if not effective, with the Opera North company, adding a luminescent, near-cinematic feel to proceedings, but again, it's merely a distraction.

Save for one genuinely moving tune (You'll Never Walk Alone, obviously), Carousel (set in Maine) bores us half to death with a joyless love story (Keith Higham's brutish carousel barker, Billy Bigelow, falling for Gillene Butterfield's naïve mill worker, Julie Jordan, after one conversation.

There's also unnecessary padding (Julie's mate Carrie's impending nuptials; two separate ballet sequences) and a stuffy, over-egged songbook.

What's more, Carousel's dated depiction of men (dim-witted and/or animalistic gombeens) and women (naive victims/slaves in love) no longer sits well on stage.

Desperately in need of editing, there are large chunks of this production in which nothing happens.

At one point, the entire cast breaks into song about what a lovely dinner they had. Seriously. The performers struggle, too, with the scattered themes (realistic tragedy one minute, loopy fantasy the next). Indeed, it's time to put the so-called greatest musical of the 20th century to rest.

Ends tonight. HHIII

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