Review – Carousel – The Savoy Theatre

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Two nights ago I went with J, Jill and a random visiting American to see Carousel at the Savoy Theatre, a place I\’d never been and didn\’t even know where to look for! The show itself had been on my radar since November, when my uncle came to visit, mostly because I\’m a huge fan of Rogers and Hammerstein (the golden standard of the musical, in my mind – only Cole Porter and Kander and Ebb occupy the same heights for me) but also because it\’s a classic musical that I\’ve never seen, in the era which produced the most works I enjoy. However, it\’s also known as a bit of a dark musical due to the male lead being, er, a wife beater, and the fact that his wife sings about being okay with having him hit her. This kind of creeped me out, but I decided to just go and experience it and see how I felt about it later.

I am completely unfamiliar with the music of Carousel (it\’s part of my \”thing,\” to experience a show as if it\’s brand new if possible, no matter how forced it is to have such an experience – thus I avoid reading plays by authors I enjoy unless I\’ve actually seen them so that I can really enjoy the live experience, whenever it finally happens), so I didn\’t know any of the big songs, even though I knew the title \”You\’ll Never Walk Alone\” – but I had no idea what it sounded like! February, though, was the time for me to finally overcome my resistance to the story and indulge in my love of the classics – and £10 tickets from LastMinute were the final incentive to get me in the theater.

This, actually, turned out to be a real winner, as when we arrived, it turned out the Savoy house management had upgraded us to Row E! Now, I do believe there is no point in paying lots of money for a show in the hopes that somehow sitting closer will make a bad show better, but I was quite pleased that for once my frugal ways were really working in my favor. And it was a lovely theater to be able to admire in the full – all Art Deco to the hilt, gilded decor, a frieze of monkeys in the bar, the whole thing very OTT. We were also notified that \”Carrie Pipperidge\” was being played by Tasha Sheridan, which means this show\’s effective utilization of understudies was continuing full blast.

I was pretty put off at the very start of the show, when, after the women punched out of work (establishing the scene as a late Victorian era New England factory), the stage elements withdrew to produce … GAH animated projections instead of a real set! AARGH I was so frustrated. Is this the latest trend in cost cutting for shows, go for drops and send everything else off to Pixar? That said, I liked thet elements they did have – a man on stilts, three can can dancers, various other carnie types – but the projections irritated me continuously throughout the show, especially when movement in the background distracted me from the action on stage.

As \”center of the action\” Julie Jordan, I was quite taken with Alexandra Silber, who wasn\’t just beautiful, she was perfect for the role. She somehow managed to make the character believable – both independent, vulnerable, tough, and loving – and really kept my eyes focused on her. Maybe I can\’t figure out why she threw her life away for the sake of some silly man, but who knows what motivated girls of this era? At any rate, it was a real pleasure to listen to her sing, and I feel like she was an incredibly good choice for the role. Tasha Sherida also did a good job as Julie\’s best friend, being both cute and spunky and fun in a very Rogers-and-Hammerstein \”comic sidekick\” kind of way, but the person in charge of doing her hair really dropped the ball – it looked not just period inappropriate but ridiculously messy and half-thought-out.

Meanwhile, Billy Bigelow, Julie\’s love interest and the guy who slaps her around because he doesn\’t like her being right, certainly does a good job of being a rake and a flake and a ball of temper – but Jeremiah James wasn\’t as amazing in the role as I might have hoped for. The shoes seemed filled but not really full of personality. Lesley Garret, who plays Julie\’s aunt Nettie, was fun and well-placed in her role. That said, she could have taught the other girls a lot about how to sing correctly, as she clearly had a voice that would have made it to the back of the house, while the chorus of women singing along in the group numbers (i.e. \”Clambake\” and \”June is Busting Out All Over\”) just sounded painfully thin.

This, I think, is a problem with letting people sing with their voices miked, and as near as I can tell everyone in the cast was doing this. You could hear them sigh, you could hear them whisper – it was ridiculous! I\’m convinced this \”trend\” (if it isn\’t in fact just \”the way things are done\”) is completely ruining the quality of musicals and making stage singers weak. Seriously, if I want to hear people sing through a sound system, why not just fire up the home stereo?

Overally this was a \”good enough\” show and not a bad evening out, but it all just seemed a little done on the cheap and didn\’t overwhelm me. The dancing was okay (I did like the bit where the crew of the whaling ship faced off with the girls from Nellie\’s Soda Shack – it was kind of like \”Seven Brides for Seven Brothers\” but much better than the show I\’d seen in London two years back), and Billy\’s best friend was a great evil villain. The energy of the cast wasn\’t as up as I would have liked – I compare it with \”Hairspray,\” which was electric and energetic even from the second balcony – and can\’t help but think they were maybe a bit down about not being in such a popular show. It was a good introduction to this musical, and I\’ll probably see it again some day, but it didn\’t really blow my socks off.

(This review was for a performance that took place on Wednesday, February 25th, 2009.)

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10 Responses to “Review – Carousel – The Savoy Theatre”

  1. bob merckel Says:

    Wasn’t Silber amazing? I thought she gave one of the best performances I’ve seen in a very long time.

    And Jeremiah James, while nice enough to look at and in decent voice, just didn’t cut it, did he? He played it awfully one-note when I saw it a few months ago.

    • webcowgirl Says:

      It’s really hard to judge how to view his performance because I found the character so unsympathetic that I wasn’t sure how you could really do it right – but the fact that Julie didn’t come off like a schuck gave me a clue that even his character could likely be lively with the right person performing it.

  2. fineeyes Says:

    Interesting review- I love the show and have done for years. It’s a very unusual, adult kind of musical, I think. Alexandra Silber is indeed outstanding, Jeremiah James is OK, but not the best Billy I’ve seen.

    I don’t mean to be pedantic, but it’s RoDgers and Hammerstein 🙂

  3. Robert Platt Says:

    You folks obviously know a lot more about theatre than I do. All I know is that the production I saw at the Savoy was not even close to the one you saw.

    I thought the evening brought me everything I paid for an more. See, I never saw Carousel before so there is no way I could know if any of the songs were painfully thin.

    I did not see the other productions so I could not compare to other Billys.

    I do know that the interaction between Billy and Julie when they sang If I Loved You, made me forget I was in a theater, as I was truly engaged in them. and you’ll Never Walk Alone….well, I am not afraid to say…..made me cry as well as everyone else around me.

    Well maybe it is good that I do not know as much about theatre as all of you, because in my “ignorance” I and my wife had a great time! I have seen it twice now……and I still cried.

    • webcowgirl Says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed it. I certainly got good value for the tickets. I had never seen it before so it was all new for me. My comparison was to “Hairspray” for the energy and as for the voices my comparison was just to any good chorus in terms of how they fill the room with their sound.

  4. Robert Platt Says:

    One more thing

    How come with all that is going on in the world three people can comment on a blog about a show and all within 20 minutes?

    • webcowgirl Says:

      There are a bunch of different possible reasons – some people have things that flag them when something they want to read comes online, but also I mention it to my friends online. None of the people who responded are people that I know, though, so perhaps it was just something about the time of day and things being quiet.

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