This is a joint review between Viola da Voce and Contrapuntist.
If Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals are gems renowned for their heartfelt storylines and memorable melodies, then Carousel is the Hope Diamond. Cited by TIME magazine as the greatest musical of the 20th century, the musical transforms Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár’s work into a work of nearly operatic scale. In fact when the show opened in 1945, Broadway performers sang without microphones, just like operatic vocalists.
Like great opera, musical theater demands excellent vocals, great theatrics, a beautiful score and an unforgettable story. It’s appropriate then, that Lyric Opera of Chicago tackled this musical in the third year of its American Music Theater Initiative.
Contrapuntist and I have seen plenty of musicals at community theaters and as part of Broadway in Chicago productions. We’ve also been to numerous operas at Lyric. As a result, we were curious to see what would happen when the opera company put on a musical. We also didn’t know what to expect from Steven Pasquale, who is playing the character of Billy Bigelow. We had only seen him as the meathead firefighter Sean Garrity on the TV dramedy, Rescue Me.
The outcome was both mesmerizing and memorable. Pasquale is a masterful singer, who performed with unexpected power and tenderness in “If I Loved You” and “Soliloquy”. Laura Osnes’s (Julie Jordan) voice soared with forthright passion in “If I Loved You” and “What’s the Use of Wondrin’”. Jenn Gambatese (Carrie Pipperidge) sang with silvery clarity and ditzy innocence.
Denyce Graves graced the stage as Nettie Fowler. Her grand operatic voice seemed overpowering in comparison to the rest of the cast, which is our only minor critique. However, her performance of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was spiritual enough to raise the hairs on our arms.
Hearing the full orchestra perform the score under the direction of David Chase also brought out the rich harmonies and complex orchestration not heard in simplified arrangements for smaller ensembles.
Abigail Simon excelled in her heart-wrenching portrayal of Louise, Billy Bigelow’s daughter, during the ballet in the second act. Her motions captured the angst of a child carrying the burden of her parent’s actions.
Lyric Opera’s production of Carousel allows the audience to experience this musical in a different way than a Broadway show. The high-quality singing coupled with the full orchestra brought the musical’s emotional character to fruition in a way that could only happen in an opera house.
Carousel runs April 10 to May 3 at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Dr., Chicago. Tickets start at $29, and are available at lyricopera.org/carousel or at 312-827-5600.