THE BASICS: Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Carousel” with violin-cello-electronic keyboard accompaniment and minimal sets at Musicalfare Theatre located on the campus of Daemen College at 4380 Main Street in Amherst, NY, accessible off Main or Getzville Road. Run time is 2 hours and 30 minutes including one intermission. The play continues through May 17th Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7pm, Fridays at 8, Saturdays at both 4 and 8, and Sundays at 2.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Julie Jordan, an innocent who works at the mill with her friend Carrie, falls for and marries the circus barker Billy Bigelow, a rough character who is easily influenced by others, especially his low-life friend Jigger. In the end, after Billy has shown himself to be a wife-beater and thief, he is given a shot at redemption in order to help his daughter. The musical includes “If I Loved You,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and “June is Bustin’ Out All Over.”
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Certain qualities of this production were so low that I left at intermission. And that was disappointing because I like to cry in a crowded theater as much as anyone, and to deny myself a good blubber at the end of “Carousel” did not sit well with me.
Some might ask how I can review this if I only saw half of the show? What I saw (or more accurately heard) was not going to change for the better in the next 70 minutes. To start with, the pit orchestra consisted of what in classical music is called a piano trio – violin with a keyboard and a bass instrument (usually a cello). Using a piano trio instead of an orchestra wasn’t the problem. The keyboard trio has a beautiful sound, has been around since the Baroque era, and every great composer has written for it. But MusicalFare doesn’t use a real piano. They had some awful electronic keyboard. And, the musicianship of the violin and cello were not the best, either.
So, the evening opened with the so-called “Carousel Waltz” which is really an overture, about eight minutes of noise (in this case) to which the actors in costume valiantly pantomimed around a very lightly constructed carousel set.
Then we meet Billy, the Carousel barker, around whom the entire plot revolves. Billy should evoke in us a wide variety of very strong emotions. We should hate him for the way he treats Julie, we should envy him for his attractive good looks and charm, we should fear him because of his quick temper, we should pity him, and at the least we should be very aware of him every second he’s on stage. We weren’t. At all. He had a couple of stock moves and his emotional range ran the gamut from A to B. And, unfortunately, the actor just can’t sing. Whether you attend opera or watch “The Voice” on TV, you know what good singing sounds like.
Another slight mis-cast came when Carrie (the best friend) had a better voice over a wider range than Julie (the star). Awkward!
Kudos for getting into their roles go to Charmagne Chi (Aunt Nettie who takes in the young married couple), Steve Copps (Jigger the troublemaker), Arin Lee Dandes (Carrie, the best friend), Gregory Gjurich (Bascombe, the mill owner), Wendy Hall (Mrs. Mullin, the owner of the Carousel), and Dudney Joseph, Jr. (Enoch Snow, the ambitious fisherman).
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!