If it’s great singing and musical accompaniment that draws you to classic musicals, then you need to spend some time at the Carnegie Center in Covington where there’s currently a satisfying staging of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel at the Otto M. Budig Theatre.
Let’s start with the orchestra, assembled by Carmon DeLeone, who has been heading up the Cincinnati Ballet’s orchestra for several decades. He’s brought together 17 top-notch local players for this gorgeous score — songs include “If I Loved You,” “What’s the Use of Wondrin’?” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” — and they play wonderfully, although they’re crammed into a tiny orchestra “pit” that’s actually under a fishing pier, part of the set of the New England town where Carousel takes place.
South Pacific, another Rodgers and Hammerstein favorite revived recently at Lincoln Center (and toured to places including our own Aronoff Center) has increased the appetite for such accompaniment and DeLeone’s ensemble delivers completely for the Carnegie.
(I saw a Sunday matinee on April 10, with assistant conductor Becky Childs serving as the maestro, doing a fine job subbing for DeLeone.)
Of course, the music isn’t complete if the voices don’t measure up and producer Joshua Steele and director Mark Hardy (who teaches at Northern Kentucky University) have recruited an incredibly able ensemble of singers, many with operatic experience. Perhaps the most impressive is Joshua Jeremiah as the quick-tempered carousel operator Billy Bigelow. He’s a baritone with a lot of opera experience and it shows, especially in Carousel’s most dramatic piece, “Soliloquy,” in which the mercurial Billy comes to terms with the responsibilities of being a father. It’s a lengthy piece of singing (perhaps eight minutes), a monologue that evolves and reveals. There were sustained cheers from the capacity audience following his rendition of this number.
Emily Lorini plays Julie Jordan, the object of Billy’s not altogether willing affection and she too has great pipes and a spunky presence. Jamie Leigh Medina brings a lovely soprano to the role of Julie’s friend Carrie and Charlie Clark, who has a more traditional musical theater voice, is her suitor and eventual husband, Enoch Snow. Clark has a great comic presence and his interaction with Medina is entertaining to watch. Blythe Walker is one more excellent operatic presence, playing the reassuring and motherly Nettie Fowler with embracing warmth. Mike Sherman plays the play’s bad guy, Jigger Craigin, with appropriate malevolence.
As good as the voices are, however, the spark between Julie and Billy needs to ignite almost immediately and these two able singers don’t strike fire quickly enough. Carousel’s book jumps quickly past their courtship to Julie announcing her pregnancy, so we have to assume a lot. Although Lorini and Jeremiah sing exceptionally, their acting feels a tad mechanical — not until the final moments when Billy returns from Heaven to offer some encouragement to their daughter do we see some depth of emotion between them. That shortcoming reduces the emotional impact of the show. But, boy, does it sound good.
CAROUSEL continues at the Carnegie Center through Sunday. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.