Moreover, even in this era of John Doylesque cost-cutting, the orchestration for just two pianos -- plus for a brief, engaging moment, a fiddler (Edmund Bagnell) to enliven a homespun hoedown -- simply can't do justice to the richness of the score. And Robert Mark Morgan's over-literal set -- a pier with some pilings, a jib, suggestions of weather-shingled cottages -- augurs some of the limitations in store for audiences.
Nor are the leading players ideal. At first, Patricia Noonan conveys all the dewy innocence one could ask of a young Julie Jordan, as she's tempered with just enough self-assertiveness. But later in the play, a kind of shrill hysteria takes over. Moreover, her rapport with carnival barker Billy Bigelow (Aaron Ramey, who summons more churlishness than charm) never fully convinces. As Julie's Aunt Nettie, one needs an earthier, more-robust sounding actress than Broadway veteran Teri Ralston.
The supporting cast fares far better. As the ambitious fisherman Mr. Snow, Todd Buonopane has vocal chops and stage presence to beat the band, even if a career counselor would probably advise showbiz over cod. He's well-matched by Sara Jean Ford as Carrie Pipperidge, the future Mrs. Snow, who makes the most of every comic opportunity, whether singing splendidly or reporting for best-friend duty. Other standouts include Leslie Becker as the louche carnival proprietress Mrs. Mullin and Christopher Innvar (silver-toothed to camouflage his leading man looks) as the criminally inclined Jigger Craigin. In fact, their set-tos have the most genuine feel of any encounter in the play.
Perhaps the show's strongest element is Joshua Bergasse's choreography, which is spirited and exhilarating, including the long dance soliloquy which serves as a kind of psyche-at-a-glance portrait of Billy and Julie's 15-year-old daughter, Louise (Kristen Paulicelli). A passing parade of circus performers -- the women hauled, contorted, like exotic cargo -- succinctly summons the divide between the strictures of New England and the great world beyond, between the dreams of adolescence and the impending realities of adult life. Indeed, it does so more poignantly than the musical as a whole -- at least in this unfortunate incarnation.