Rodgers & Hammerstein’s second musical, Carousel is loved for its passionate and rousing score, featuring a number of well-known songs; in fact, many Liverpool FC fans probably don’t even realise that their team’s anthem originates from a piece of 1945 musical theatre. Tonight, the musical was presented in a concert staging, accompanied by a 31-piece orchestra in the stunning surroundings of Cadogan Hall.
Based on Ferenc Molnár’s 1909 play, Liliom, Carousel is set in a Maine coastal town, where we follow the exploits of carousel barker Billy Bigelow. This roguish character’s romance with Julie Jordan results in them both losing their jobs, and when Julie falls pregnant, Billy decides to participate in a robbery with Jigger Craigin. The robbery goes tragically wrong, and Billy has only one chance left to secure a future for his unborn child.
Some of the nuances of the story are lost in Tom Briggs adaptation to a concert staging, particularly in the latter half of the second act. But, the use of a narrator, here played by the iconic Patricia Routledge, does go some way to filling in the blanks.
What we lost in story, we gained tenfold from the music. Conductor, Alex Parker and his orchestra were truly mesmerising, those wonderful elongated pieces of music, ‘The Carousel Waltz’ and ‘Billy Makes a Journey’ sounded especially emotive under Parker’s direction. The orchestra and cast were joined by the GSA singers from the University of Surrey. The thirty-six strong troupe sounded incredible, with some of them being singled out to fill some of the smaller parts.
An all-star cast assembled for this concert, including Janie Dee and Joanna Riding, reprising their roles from the 1992 production of Carousel at the National Theatre. They’ve both just finished Follies there too, so there was no mistaking the genuine chemistry between the pair.
Hadley Fraser’s outstanding portrayal of Billy Bigelow could not be faulted, the audience showing their hearty appreciation following his performance of ‘Soliloquy’. It was Stewart Clarke, though, as Jigger Craigin who was the surprise of the night, blowing us all away with a goosebump inducing ‘Blow High, Blow Low’.
With such an overwhelming amount of talent on stage, Carousel A Concert became a very special evening indeed, and one that its audience will long remember. The cast and creatives put the music at the heart of this musical, and the result was an incandescent spin on a musical theatre classic.