Lauren Worsham in Carnival!
(© Diane Sobolewski)
Lauren Worsham in Carnival!
(© Diane Sobolewski)
Carnival!, the modest yet intriguing musical which hasn't made it back to Broadway since its initial 1961 production, proves to be a much-missed charmer in Goodspeed Opera House's truly delightful revival, directed by Darko Tresnjak.

The plot varies little from its source material, the 1953 movie Lili, about a naïve country orphan (Lauren Worsham) seeking her fortune with a shabby traveling circus. There, she meets a variety of characters, including the embittered puppeteer Paul (Adam Monley), whose wartime injury cut short a stellar career as a dancer, the resident magician (and philandering cad) Marco the Magnificent (Mike McGowan), his long-suffering assistant-slash-mistress Rosalie (Michele Blakely), and the vain and grandiose circus-master Schlegel (Laurent Giroux).

As skilled a singer as she may be, Worsham lacks the necessary fragility to fully embody Lili; she's missing the childlike sense of wonder that allows Lili to converse with puppets without appearing simple-minded. Moreover, Worsham presents as a two-feet-on-the-ground kind of ingenue, with only her hunched shoulders to indicate shyness and unease. And the tendency of this supposed bumpkin to launch into song like a Podunk Jeanette McDonald never quite flies.

Providing a deep, grounded counterpart to Worsham, Monley achieves a mesmerizing presence as Paul. The temptation in this role might be to lurch about and play up the pathos, but Monley implodes his emotions, so that you're drawn in as well. He has a magnificent, velvety voice, and when singing, too, he never overreaches: He makes you come to him, and the journey proves well worth it.

If you can make the trip to Goodspeed ASAP, do so, since both the excellent McGowan and Giroux -- whose supercilious glare seems capable of exerting some dark magic of its own -- must depart on August 18. Blakely is alternately hilarious and touching, and she's especially fine in the revenge-fantasy torch song "Humming."

A huge asset of this show is the multi-talented ensemble, all of whom are not only good actors, singers, and dancers, but are acrobatically gifted as well (as proven in both Joshua Dean's astounding "aerial choreography" and Peggy Hickey's earthbound if imaginative choreography). They're more than just the icing on the cake, they're an essential ingredient in this delicious confection.