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Goodspeed serves up a genuinely thrilling production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's classic musical.

By Connecticut
James Snyder and Teal Wicks in Carousel
(© Diane Sobolewski)
James Snyder and Teal Wicks in Carousel
(© Diane Sobolewski)
After the triumph of Oklahoma!, people wondered what Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II could possibly do to top it, but top it they did with Carousel, the story of carnival barker Billy Bigelow and his internal struggle to prove worthy of the love of his devoted wife, mill worker Julie Jordan.

While first-class productions of Carousel are not always easy to find, Goodspeed has put together a genuinely thrilling one, under the sensitive and perceptive direction of Rob Ruggiero.

The creative team has made superb use of Goodspeed's intimate space, while still honoring the emotional sweep of the piece. Set pieces and shadowed projections suggest the titular carousel, all amid a wonderfully subtle color palette from scenic designer Michael Schweikardt and costume designer Alejo Vietti.

Of course, Carousel isn't actually about a carnival ride, but rather the deeply real and sympathetic people caught up in the whirl of its motion. Fortunately, this production boasts a top-notch cast of Broadway talent, who, for the most part, do splendid justice to the complexities of the show's characters.

As Julie, Teal Wicks conveys so much character succinctly and clearly, but does so with a wonderfully real sense of no-nonsense, New England restraint. As the plot unfolds, and Julie's relationship with Billy undergoes an increasingly dire set of challenges, Wicks allows the emotion of her character to radiate from within. (Sadly, she leaves the production next week to join the national tour of Jekyll and Hyde, handing the role off to the eminently capable Erin Davie.)

James Snyder is a bit less consistent. He comes off a bit too forced and superficial during the scenes in which Billy is supposed to be this street-smart tough guy, but he more than acquits himself when the story calls upon Billy to be heartfelt. The second half of his rendition of "Soliloquy," in which Billy contemplates the prospect of his pregnant wife bearing him a daughter, was positively stirring in its depth of feeling. Likewise, his reprise of "If I Loved You," possibly the most dramatically affecting reprise in musical-theater history, was a marvel of quiet intensity.

In the major supporting roles, Jeff Kready as Enoch Snow and Jenn Gambatese as his love interest (and Julie's best friend), Carrie Pipperidge, both possess strong singing voices and bring great depth and comic nuance to their characterizations.

Choreographer Parker Esse ably abets Ruggiero in keeping the production energetic, joyful, and bursting with character, particularly in "June is Bustin' Out All Over." The one misstep on Esse's part came during the pivotal act II ballet, during which Billy discovers the full extent to which his misdeeds have affected the life of his now-teenage daughter, Louise.

In reinterpreting Agnes de Mille's original choreography, Esse tips the balance away from how Billy's actions have made his daughter a social outcast and toward Louise's sexual awakening, including three scantily clad males in the guise of carousel horses -- a touch that feels more like something from Equus than a Rodgers and Hammerstein masterpiece.


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