CAROUSEL AT THE NEW ALEXANDRA THEATRE, BIRMINGHAM
Theatre Run: Tuesday 16 - Saturday 20 July
Performance Reviewed: Tuesday 16 July (Press Night)
Reviewed by Kyle Pedley
BMOS - The Birmingham and Midland Operatic Society - has a long, rich history of over 125 years of staging big, prolific musicals and theatrical projects with a level of ambition, scope and quality usually reserved for professional touring productions. As Centre Stage Magazine deftly put it, they are “professional in all but name” and their latest showcase of ability and talent comes in the form of Rodgers and Hammerstein classic Carousel, which the company are performing at the Birmingham New Alexandra Theatre for this week only.
Carousel is very definitely a musical and story of it’s time - a somewhat whimsical and delightfully old-fashioned yarn that is as familiar and heartwarming as it is suitably nostalgic. From the now-iconic soundtrack featuring such ubiquitous classics as ‘If I Love You’ and ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, through to it’s family-friendly, time-jumping narrative of love, loss and family, its a show that proudly screams old-school musical of yesteryear, and BMOS have done a wonderful job of capturing and recreating the essence of this beloved classic, the sense of time and place complimented by some terrific staging and costume design in particular.
The central tale follows the relationship between roguish Billy Bigelow (James Gordanifar) and sweetheart Julie Jordan (Abigail Wells) through the years and strifes of relationship and marital problems to ultimately tragedy and catharsis. Over the course of the show, the community around them blossoms as supporting characters emerge and develop, including Julie’s closest friend Carrie (Marie Donnellan) and her somewhat bumbling but forward-thinking betrothed Enoch (Chris Psaras), local employer and somewhat-matriarch Nettie Fowler (Sally Jolliffe) and dubious jailbird Jigger Craigin (Pat Pryce).
The adaptation work done here remains relatively faithful to the original show, with some resourceful direction, lighting and choreography in particular making the most of a relatively limited number of set changes - though the handful that are present are all impressively constructed, characterful and evocative, with particular mention going to the opening fairground featuring the titular carousel and the marina-side front of Nettie’s spa in particular. Some of the story progressions in Act 2 may be a little unexpected and jarring in tone and perspective for those unfamiliar with the show, and even some of the central characters reach a point where they are almost entirely excised with no further development or closure, but the plots ultimate ambitions and intentions are quite emotionally and satisfactorily realised come the finale.
As I often cite when reviewing local company productions, ‘amateur’ (despite my loathing of having to use that word) shows such as this one often exude a tangible sense of excitement, camraderie and spirit that mainstream professional shows can occasionally lack, and it is certainly a plaudit that is palpable in BMOS’s work here. There’s a real sense that all involved are a tight-knit, almost familial group of performers, and in addition to enhancing the small town dynamic and community the show presents greatly, it also makes the production as a whole a far more endearing and enjoyable affair.
James Gordanifar is cocksure, fittingly handsome and ultimately empathetic as Billy, whilst Abigail Wells gives a superb turn as sweet-natured Julie Jordan and seems almost plucked from the era of the original show itself. Wells looks and sounds simply perfect for the part, her performance offering occasional nuances of the great Judy Garland in both look and sound (despite her having no involvement in the original stage show or film) - her Julie that similar mix of tempered vulnerability met with dignity and warmth. Michelle Worthington is great fun and fabulously acerbic as Billy’s carousel employer Mrs Mullin, whilst Sally Jolliffe (who also serves as the shows choreographer) is a real treat as Nettie - a big, spirited and jovial performance full of heart, life and character and providing some of the companies strongest vocals. Finally, Marie Donnellan perfectly balances the occasional sass and vim of her Carrie whilst keeping the character thoroughly likeable and entertaining throughout.
BMOS’ excellent reputation of taking a professional approach to non-professional productions continues to impressive ends with their take on Carousel. There is a whole swathe of local talent on display across all departments and the sense of company spirit is infectious. The show itself remains a heart-warmingly old-fashioned yet accessible tale for newcomers and a faithful and lovingly recreated take on an old favourite for lovers of its original stage or film incarnation, and one with a decidedly more serious and effecting tone in places than one may first presume given its Rodgers and Hammerstein pedigree. With a one-week only engagement at the New Alexandra Theatre, Carousel is an easy recommend to those who wanted an inoffensive, entertaining evening of musical theatre delight whilst supporting and championing local theatre talent in the process.
(A)musings does not provide Star Ratings for Local Productions.
CAROUSEL is running at the New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham from Tuesday 16 to Saturday 20 July 2013.
Press tickets for this performance of Carousel were provided courtesy of The New Alexandra Theatre directly. (A)musings Media gratefully acknowledges their generous invitation.