For anyone unfamiliar with the plot (which was borrowed from Ferenc Molnar's Liliom), the show focuses on mill laborer Julie Jordan (Alexandra Silber), who falls for carnival barker Billy Bigelow (Robert Patteri). They soon both lose their jobs and must move in with her Aunt Nettie (Victoria Strong), but Billy can't find way to make money. In his frustration, he lashes out at his new wife -- who is pregnant -- and eventually chooses an unsavory (and ultimately fatal) way to provide for his family.
Silber played the role of Julie in last year's acclaimed production in London's West End and she's a prime reason to see this production. When the spotlight first shines on her, she presents Julie as a mousy wallflower. However, once she opens her mouth, an almost raspy deep voice emanates, robust with a hint of experience. Later on, her breathtaking soprano voice brings heartbreak to "What's the Use of Wond'rin'" and brimming lust to "If I Loved You."
Patteri has the appropriate air of arrogance as Billy, but his swagger hides a vulnerability that frightens him enough to attack anyone who taps into it. His operatic voice sounds pinched at times, but he brings vehemence to Billy's big number "Soliloquy."
Responsible for most of the show's comic relief, Jane Noseworthy is a delight as Julie's best friend, the practical but whimsically-streaked Carrie Pipperidge. She playfully finds the naughtiness in straight-laced Carrie, particularly when being seduced by sailor-rat Jigger or describing a Follies show to Julie. Victoria Strong brings earthiness to the motherly Nettie. James Leo Ryan is appropriately despicable as Billy's partner-in-crime, Jigger. Tracy Lore takes the small role of carousel owner Mrs. Mullin and brings real poignancy to this harpy with a penchant for younger wild men.
The only weak spot in the production is the second act ballet. Kimberly Mikesell and John Todd have the correct moves, but lack the grace to make this dance the masterpiece it could have been. The rest of Lee Martino's choreography is much better showcased by the ensemble in "June Is Busting Out All Over." Musical director Daryl Archibald utilizes the orchestrations created for last year's London production by Larry Blank, which brings a fresh sound to the score.
The costumes by Garry Lennon and sets by Tom Buderwitz are suitably rustic. While the production uses a makeshift carousel -- made of crates, chairs and strings of lights -- when that brilliant overture starts up and the turntable circles around, giving the impression of a grand mechanical beast, it's impossible not to tingle with glee.
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