LOGAN — The Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre has a history of producing some great works of theatre that draw hundreds of patrons every summer. The festival brings to the stage both a mix of classic operas and musical theatre offerings that appeal to a wide array of audiences. One such production from their 2015 season is the well loved, although only occasionally produced musical, Carousel. With a soaring orchestral score, tales of romance and death, Carousel has the elements of a great show. Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre’s production of the show is beautifully done and will provide a wonderful evening of theatre for most patrons.
I’m a huge fan of most shows produced during the “Golden Age” of musical theatre: pieces of work such as South Pacific, My Fair Lady, Annie Get Your Gun, and Damn Yankees. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover Carousel, which I had not seen of before. Carousel is a classic piece of theatre that’s often over looked due to the repertoire of musicals produced by the dynamic duo Rodgers and Hammerstein. The pair wrote and composed Carousel after their first piece of work, Oklahoma!, was a smashing success. Although Carousel earned far fewer accolades then its predecessor, Carousel was later referred to by Richard Rodgers as the favorite of all his musicals.
The show takes place in a little town in Maine in 1873 and revolves around the romance of carousel barker Billy Bigelow (played by Wes Mason), and Julie Jordan (played by Molly Mustonen), who works at a nearby mill. After the young couple gets married both become unemployed, which puts a strain on their relationship. After Julie tells Billy that she’s pregnant, he resorts to extreme measures to get money, a decision that leads to tragedy.
I hold Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre to a high standard, and their production fit squarely within what I was expecting. Every major part of the production, whether it was costume design, vocals, stage movement and dance, or acting, were well planned and executed. Each element came seemlessly together to create a show worthy of much praise. Every lead actor seemed to have a classically trained vocal background which was almost a necessity to produce the songs from the vocally demanding score. Mustonen had a particularly beautiful and round sound that was evident throughout the show but especially highlighted in her duet with Mason during the song “If I Loved You.” Every time Mason sung, his incredible vocal prowess filled the theater. He had the strength and power required of the leading man, yet not once did his strong voice feel overbearing.
Director/choreographer Maggie L. Harrer created a solidly praiseworthy ensemble. Every time a group number came I relished in hearing the cast fill the theatre with their solid and robust vocals. “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over” is an example where the ensemble really shined. Sometimes directors instruct the ensemble not to sing full force, and for many productions this may be what’s needed. However, for the many rousing numbers in this show I enjoyed hearing a full cast backed by an equally incredible live orchestra (conducted by Karen Keltner). Harrer (with the assistance of associate choreographer Lauren Camp) also created many visually appealing moments, including the interlude of movement by Louise Bigelow (Billy Bigelow and Julie Jordan’s daughter, played by Fiona Katrine) as she played on the beach. As Katrine glided across the stage, it was easy to imagine her actually playing on the shores of the sea.
Although there were many positive aspects of the show, a few areas fell flat. For example, since the piece is such a classic, I wish the Harrer had taken more risks to incorporate new inventive elements into the show, perhaps a unique piece of set or a different approach to the standard choreography—just something to set the show apart. Much of the show felt like just a really good production of Carousel that any major theatre company could have produced instead of something special and extraordinary. Set designer Karen Iverson also created a couple of set pieces that just seemed a little strange, like a “pile” of rocks that somehow seemed to be perfectly shaped for a bench, but looked rather unrealistic. Additionally, the home of Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow was designed to show perspective, but seemed too literal as the protruding front of the house felt extremely unrealistic and drew more attention to the set then needed. None of these are major issues, but rather a few poor ideas that didn’t positively contribute to the show.
Overall, Carousel still had a wonderful production and is the perfect piece for the Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre’s 2015 season. With incredibly trained singers, a powerful ensemble, and a plot that has just the right dose of romance and tragedy, the show will sure to be a hit among fans of the “Golden Age” of musical theatre.