Tuesday, June 14, 2016

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Memorable Merry-Go-Round at Reagle

Some of Rogers & Hammersteins’ best songs are in their CAROUSEL. Even if you’ve seen the musical (many times) before, The Reagle Music Theatre’s version (playing through June 19th) offers up some irresistible performances – and spectacular choreography from director Rachel Bertone.

The elephant in the room—and it will be until someone figures out a way to fix the book – is the domestic violence which is passed down from mother to daughter, from an abusive father who gets way too many chances to redeem himself. Let’s put the elephant aside for the moment and tell you what makes this production worth the visit: it’s the women who carry the show!

With this CAROUSEL, Reagle’s artistic director Bob Eagle proves that local performers (including local director Bertone, as well as local music director Dan Rodriguez) can stand shoulder to shoulder with the New York people Reagle usually imports for the leads. This is not to minimize the star performance of Ciaran Sheehan as Billy Bigelow. He has the frame and the charisma of a guy who can attract every mill girl in Maine – but it’s his voice that seals the deal: a gorgeous, silky tenor with mesmerizing low notes. And he acts the heck out of his “Soliloquy.”

Again, it’s the locals who give the show substance. Jennifer Ellis gives one of the best performances of her career as the gal who falls for, marries and bears the brunt of Billy’s frustration. Ellis plays Julie with enormous quiet strength and an enduring will which mitigates the dialogue explaining away Billy’s nasty temper. And you can’t get enough reprises of Leigh Barrett’s powerful “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” You may have heard it a million times, but Barrett astonishes. (Yes, tears every time, despite myself.)

Jessica Kundla provides gentle humor as Ellis’ flighty friend and Todd Yard makes his mark as the slimy villain who “brings out the brute” in Billy. BUT oh, the choreography: Bertone’s lusty hornpipe for the sailors, her frolic for the impressionable young girls, her nightmare carnival sequence, and most of all her touching, vulnerable ballet for Billy’s troubled teenage daughter (exquisitely danced by Kyra Christopher). Quite a ride on this CAROUSEL.