Nautilus Music-Theater Carousel
Toss in a central plot point – Billy Bigelow's abuse of wife Julie and the way she accepts it – that was probably outdated when the musical was created in the middle of the 20th century, let alone at the beginning of the 21st - and you have a show that rises and falls as much with its performances as the material beneath it.
If you don't remember, Carousel follows young Julie and her relationship with salty carnival barker Billy Bigelow. From the first moment, the two are enchanted with each other. And when Billy loses his job at the carousel because of Julie, their fates are sealed. Yet this is far from a happy-ever-after story. Billy doesn't work and has a violent temper that emerges when he hits Julie. To top it off, she's pregnant and he wants to provide for his new child. So he goes along with a sailor friend's scheme to rob a rich local.
It goes horribly wrong and Billy kills himself instead of going to jail. From there, the story takes an odd turn, with Billy ending up in the hereafter and getting one last chance to affect the lives of his widow and daughter. It's a frustrating end to such a good start, but one that anyone familiar with the show will anticipate. For the rest of you – be warned.
As usual, Nautilus does a marvelous job in casting and crafting its production. Though the acting sometimes feels a bit too mannered and stiff, the singing is top notch throughout. Several performances stand out, including the tremendously talented Bradley Greenwald as Billy, Jennifer Baldwin Peden as Julie, Joel Lietman as dull-but-dependable Enoch Snow, and JP Fitzgibbons as grungy sailor Jigger.
Director Ben Krywosz crafts a tight production that focuses almost completely on the performances (due, in part, to Erik Paulson's spartan set, which leaves most of the seaside village in the imagination). Choreographers Brian Sosteck and Megan McClellan do solid work with the show's lengthy dance sequences.
In the end, I was able to take pleasure from the performances and the staging and a good chunk of the music (it's tough to hate a show with "June is Bustin' Out All Over"), even if the plot and message leave a lot to be desired.
Carousel has been extended through February 11 at the Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis. For tickets and more information, call 612-340-1725 or visit www.southerntheater.org.