I understand why Minnesota Orchestra chose Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel” to inaugurate its new annual series of musical theater performances. Of all the classical musicals, this has one of the richest scores.
Gone are the familiar 16-bar tunes in favor of songs with complicated sections of melodies. There are also plenty of opportunities for the orchestra to shine, including “The Carousel Waltz” and a ballet in Act II.
But it’s difficult to sit through the book, which is overly long and melodramatic, and ultimately misogynistic in its Neanderthal justification of spousal abuse, suggesting that sometimes a slap can feel like a kiss.
That said, director Robert Neu stages a strong production — not semi-staged, as the orchestra usually presents such works, but a fully staged rendition that serves the play and the audience well.
The cast of talented singing actors delivered a spirited performance.
Gabriel Preisser makes an ideal Billy Bigelow. He is sexy and passionate, but rough and brutish as well.
He also has a mellifluous baritone that makes the most of his extended “Soliloquy.” Paul R. Coate was the other strong vocalist, bringing a robust tenor, and perfectly capturing the stuffed shirt Mr. Snow.
As the female leads, Sarah Lawrence as Julie Jordan and Kersten Rodau as Carrie Pipperidge, were nicely contrasted as the romantic lead and the second banana. Lawrence’s warm soprano successfully negotiated the ballads, “If I Loved You” and “What’s the Use of Wonderin,’ ” while Rodau added a nice bit of comedy.
Kathleen Humphrey sang with an excessive vibrato, but her rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was deeply moving.
Ironically, the biggest problem was the orchestra itself. Conductor Sarah Hicks allowed the orchestra to play so loudly that it became a distraction — the focus of the performance rather than an accompaniment. As a result, the singers had to be miked so loudly that the voices came off sounding artificial.
The ballet was dramatically inert, dragging out the second act. Even Penelope Freeh’s choreography, and her fine performance, could not inspire much interest.
Despite these criticisms, the inspiring ending brought tears. For those who can accept the show’s limitations, this can be a satisfying performance.
William Randall Beard is a Minneapolis writer.