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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Carousel
Coliseum  Spring 2017

There is much that is excellent in this English National Opera production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, and a couple of things that are good but not quite good enough. 

Unfortunately the disappointments are the two stars. Their separate limitations don't spoil the evening, but just keep it from being as special as it could and should be.

I am not one of those who think opera companies are slumming or dumbing down when they attempt Broadway musicals. Some of Broadway's finest products – and Carousel certainly ranks that high – are easily of operatic stature, and the question is often whether the opera companies are good enough for the musicals. 

(Besides, the Coliseum's annual spring musical is really an ENO production in name more than fact, established West End producers employing the ENO's performers and resources.) 

The best things about this production, apart from the great songs themselves, are the ENO chorus and dancers, and the staging by director Lonny Price and choreographer Josh Rhodes. 

Though it is labelled 'semi-staged', the only element short of a full production is the use of plain movable wooden platforms instead of more naturalistic sets, and Price moves his large cast around with fluid ease. 

Josh Rhodes's dances are the real highlights of the show, starting with an opening ballet that begins with the script's final tableau and then takes Billy Bigelow backward to childhood and then forward again to the musical's opening and set designer James Noone's magical creation of the titular carousel. 

A lively and witty 'June Is Bustin' Out All Over', a testosterone-fuelled 'Blow High Blow Low', and the dramatic ballet sequence built on Agnes de Mille's original are all brilliant, beautiful and exciting to watch. 

Which leaves us with the stars. It goes without saying that Alfie Boe and Katherine Jenkins both sing beautifully, though it would be nice if we were allowed to hear their natural voices and not typical West End over-amplification. (Surely both are more than capable of making themselves heard without assistance.) 

But each in a different way falls prey to the endemic weaknesses of opera-trained singers attempting popular music.

Jenkins cannot resist the temptation to oversing, adding coloratura trills to 'If I Loved You' and 'What's The Use Of Wond'rin' that are lovely-sounding in themselves but draw attention to themselves and away from the lyrics and the dramatic moment. 

And Alfie Boe is prone, whatever the dramatic situation, to turn away from whoever else is in the scene, plant himself downstage centre and blast his song out to the audience with no pretence of realism. 

This is particularly disappointing in the great 'Soliloquy', an entire dramatic scene played out in a single long-form song, with the singer experiencing and expressing a string of separate emotions. Though Boe does move about the stage, he just ploughs straight through the song, with no emotional transitions or indication of the man's interior journey. 

Like Jenkins in her different way, Boe is making pretty sounds with his voice, with no real sense that he is listening to the words his character is voicing. 

In the basic requirement of acting and creating characters through their singing and dancing, the two leads are repeatedly topped by the supporting players, and it comes as little surprise to read the programme biographies after the fact and discover that they all come from musical theatre rather than opera backgrounds – Alex Young (Carrie), Gavin Spokes (Enoch), Derek Hagen (Jigger), Amy Everett (Louise) – along with Brenda Edwards and Nicholas Lyndhurst from television.

Listen to the pretty sounds the two stars make and try to imagine how much more there would be if they were more than pretty sounds, and fully enjoy everything going on around the leads, and this will be a satisfying if never quite wonderful Carousel.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Carousel - Coliseum 2017