With its wife-beating antihero and early dramatic climax, it’s no mean feat to make ‘Carousel’ a satisfying experience. Opera North’s revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most operatic musical is richly orchestrated and vibrant – even if it doesn’t capture all of its darker edges.
An impressive set featuring a lightbulb-lit timber carousel evokes an early twentieth-century New England with Technicolor vividness. The canny choice of a Golden Age film studio as Heaven’s backyard echoes this – a glimpse of
a more open-minded place than the one inhabited by fairground barker Billy Bigelow and millworker Julie Jordan.
An imposing Michael Todd Simpson and feisty Katherine Manley make a good job of these tricky characters. The sense of a man with a poet’s soul or a girl ‘deeper than a well’ isn’t always there, but their ‘If I Loved You’ has you believing in love at first duet.
Jo Davies’s production is generally stronger at spectacle than subtlety, a haunting ballet sequence aside. It blazes into life with each well-choreographed chorus number: hearing the music sung by such talented singers and played by a full-strength orchestra is a pleasure.
‘June Is Bustin’ Out All Over’ is joyous, and although Billy’s ham-dram death is disappointing, Yvonne Howard’s gorgeous rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ rescues it from football stadium banality and will have you choking back tears.
First published by Time Out