Story: Julie Jordan, a millworker in a village on the coast of Maine in the mid-19th century, goes with her friend Carrie Pipperidge to the local amusement park, where she is smitten with the handsome carnival barker Billy Bigelow while riding the carousel. The park’s jealous owner, Mrs. Mullin, tells Julie to leave immediately but she resists.
Julie is fired from her job by mill owner Mr. Bascombe for breaking curfew, while Billy is terminated by Mrs. Mullin for disobeying her orders. Julie and Billy soon marry but are forced to live with her cousin while Billy is unemployed. Meanwhile, Carrie is engaged to marry ambitious fisherman Enoch Snow.
Billly abuses Julie, but when she tells him she is pregnant he agrees to help his wastrel friend, Jigger, in a scheme to rob Mr. Bascombe and even kill him. When the robbery, however, is thwarted Billy kills himself in shame. At the heavenly gates, he’s allowed to return to Earth years later for one day to atone for his sins.
He meets his unhappy15-year-old daughter Louise but is unable to get her to accept a star he has stolen from heaven. Later, though, he attends her high school graduation and is able to convince her of her own importance and self-worth. He also expresses his love for Julie, ensuring his entry into salvation.
Highlights: Union Avenue Opera’s entry into the rich musical world of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II is a resounding success, thanks to the colorful and creative direction of Ken Page and a spirited reading of Rodgers’ score by Scott Schoonover and the UAO orchestra.
Other Info: Page sets the tone for UAO’s presentation with a delightful prelude to the opera in which carnival ‘employees’ traverse the aisles of the Union Avenue Christian Church theater selling cotton candy, balloons and in general a festive atmosphere. That introduction sets the stage for a rock-solid interpretation of what Richard Rodgers considered his own favorite of his many musicals.
Carousel is loaded with singable, recognizable tunes and a lush overture that accompanies an opening scene peopled with sideshow performers as well as a soothing entre’ acte to usher in Act II. Page utilizes a pair of screens which bracket the performing area of the stage to welcome us to fire-eaters, bearded ladies and other stars of the midway.
Christine Amon displays a luxurious mezzo-soprano as Julie’s friend Carrie, as she and Maria Lindsey as Julie sing the warm, welcoming number You’re a Queer One, Julie Jordan, or by herself on the winsome ballad, Mister Snow. Lindsey sparkles in the romantic duet If I Loved You with Wes Mason as the roguish charmer Billy Bigelow.
Not to be outdone is Anthony Webb, whose powerful tenor expresses the depth of Enoch Snow’s love for Carrie as well as his own ambitions on When the Children Are Asleep. Mason shines as well with the delightful Soliloquy, in which Bigelow extrapolates about his role as a dad for “young Bill” or a ‘father’ for his not-yet-born daughter, a tune that showcases both Mason’s fine voice and his nice turn acting the role of the ill-fated barker.
Page elicits strong efforts from Debby Lennon as Mrs. Mullin, the widowed owner of the carnival who carries a poorly hidden, lustful torch for Billy, and Merry Keller as Julie’s kind-hearted cousin Nettie, who showcases one of the show’s most famous numbers, You’ll Never Walk Alone.
Robert McNichols Jr. grandly fills the roles of the fancy Mr. Bascombe, the kindly “Starkeeper” who allows Billy another chance to earn his heavenly reward and Dr. Seldon, the wise town doctor who gives advice to the graduating class of high school seniors.
Andrew Wannigman makes the most of the role of the low-life sailor, Jigger, while Caylee McGlasson and Emma Gassett capably portray Julie’s and Billy’s daughter Louise and her balletic counterpart, respectively, in the Billy Makes a Journey dance in the second act, which originally was conceived by Agnes de Mille and here is choreographed poignantly by Yvonne Meyer Hare.
Union Avenue’s stylish production also features a smart set designed by Patrick Huber which allows for a clambake outing or a whaling vessel as well as the midway setting, all matched by Huber’s lighting.
Teresa Doggett’s costumes are especially fitting for the latter-year Enoch and Carrie, dressed in their Sunday finery after returning from a trip to New York City paid for by the fishing magnate. Properties master Laura Skroska provides a variety of pieces that seem fitting for 1873 New England.
Thanks to Schoonover and the Union Avenue Orchestra, Rodgers’ melodious score is handsomely reproduced with an exquisite sound suitable for the splendid acoustics of the venue.
Between Page’s well-paced direction and Schoonover’s precise reading of the score, this impeccable rendition of Carousel entertains like a well-oiled merry-go-round, full of charm and memories of a bygone era and anchored by a timeless love story.
Company: Union Avenue Opera
Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 North Union Blvd.
Dates: August 4, 5
Tickets: $30 to $55; contact 361-2881 or unionavenueopera.org
Rating: A 5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of John Lamb