Reviewed by Tony Annicone
Swanhurst Chorus’ 23rd Annual Dinner Theater musical is “Carousel” by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Based on the play “Liliom”, this show takes place in a small New England fishing village in Maine between 1873 and 1888. The tale revolves around the love affair between Billy Bigelow, a traveling carnival man and Julie Jordan, a local factory worker. They end up getting and after learning he is to become a father, Billy kills himself in a botched robbery.
Several years later he is allowed to return to earth for a short time to redeem himself and help Julie and his daughter recover from the stigma of his death. The original show opened on April 19, 1945, ran for 890 performances and won 8 Donaldson Awards and the Drama Critic’s Circle Award for Best Musical of 1945. The 1994 revival won 5 Tony Awards and in 1999, TIME MAGAZINE voted “Carousel” the best musical of the century. Director Roger Machado-Fournier casts each of these roles wonderfully in this very emotionally moving and well written musical. This stellar musical is rewarded with a standing ovation at the end of the show. This musical is presented in a dinner style theater setting with intimate staging. Roger is also the chef for the delectable dinner.The meal consists of stuffed chicken breast with rolls, string beans, mashed potatoes and coffee or ravioli or roast pork. It also comes with a delicious dessert buffet provided by June Loves English Bakery with lemon, chocolate or peanut butter cake.
Roger blocks the show beautifully while creating picture postcard moments along the way. He mixes the comic and dramatic moments together excellently. The musical direction is by Ed Milham who taught the cast the beautiful melodies and harmonies to this talented cast. The fantastic show stopping choreography is by Trisha McGowan and Michelle Pacheco.The two standout leads are Jason Shealy as Billy and Stefanie B. Lafontaine as Julie. Jason’s strong baritone voice is splendid and soars off the charts in “If I Loved You” my favorite R&H song, and “The Soliloquy.” The first is where Billy and Julie refuse to admit their love for each other, the second is his outlook on his future son or daughter. Rodgers music in these numbers can’t be beat. Jason also gives strength to his acting scenes by capturing the swagger and charm of this womanizing man with a wanderlust in his soul. He finally reforms to help his wife and daughter have the hope they need to live life to its fullest. His death scene and his scenes with Louise and Julie in the yard and at the graduation are very poignant and touching as he helps them cope with their future now that he is gone. Stefanie is also marvelous as Julie. Her facial expressions and line delivery is perfect. Her strong soprano voice fills the theatre with “If I Loved You” and “What’s the Use of Wondering?” where she explains you will love your man no matter what he really is. Stefanie makes the transition from young naive girl into older wiser woman with ease. Her facial expression when she finds the star Billy left for her as he sings “How He Loved Her” is heartbreaking moment in the show which leaves the audience in tears. Cathy Taitz is wonderful as Nettie. She bursts on the scene welcoming spring to Maine with the exuberant “June is Busting Out” with her lovely soprano voice and does a comic turn in “A Real Nice Clambake” where she tells about all the food they consumed. Cathy also tugs on your heartstrings when she sings “Never Walk Alone” where she comforts Julie after Billy’s death.
Melanie Kane does a great job as Carrie, Julie’s not too bright friend who loves a stuffed shirt herring fisherman, Enoch Snow played to the hilt by Nishan Lawton. Melannie gets to sing “Mister Snow” and the duet “When the Children are Asleep” with Nishan. She has a lovely soprano voice while Nishan has a strong tenor voice. They get to lighten up the show with their comic antics as Erin Toppa does as Mrs. Mullin, the carnival owner who lusts after Billy. Her best moments occur when she argues with Julie, Carrie, Billy and Jigger with her one liner insults hurled at them. Louise, Billy and Julie’s daughter is well played by Emma Becker who captures the pathos of the mixed up daughter. She also has a fantastic ballet segment in Act 2 with Jordan Larrivee. The villain of this show is played superbly by Brandon Clark. He oozes his comic and slick charm when he convinces Billy to commit a robbery, when he tries to seduce Carrie and when he cheats Billy at cards. He leads the men in “Blow High, Blow Low” and in “Stonecutters Cut it on Stone” with Carrie and Enoch. Harry Gustafson plays the Starkeeper and Doctor while Holly Loell plays the school principal. So for a topnotch rendition of this classic musical, be sure to catch “Carousel” by Swanhurst Chorus of Newport before time runs out.
CAROUSEL (4 to 18 March)
Swanhurst Chorus of Newport, Fenner Hall, 15 Fenner Ave, Newport, RI
1(401) or www.swanhurst.org