With 47 performers on stage, 12 musicians in the pit and a three-hour running time, the Redhouse Arts Center’s production of Carousel is bustin’ out all over.
Having slipped the confining quarters of the original facility at West and Fayette streets, executive artistic director Stephen Svoboda has moved to the wider digs of the Carrier Theater at the Mulroy Civic Center. More than a dozen reliable company faces appear in the huge cast, but robust new voices have been brought in for important roles. The greatest change, however, is metaphysical. The name on the program is still Redhouse, but this feels like a new company taking new directions.
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s Carousel might have been named by Time magazine as the greatest American musical of the 20th century, but it’s not done all the time for many reasons. One is that its deeply felt emotion, like “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” contains not one whiff of the irony and snark that have pervaded the last 60 years.
During the month of Carousel’s opening, April 1945, Adolf Hitler had just died, and victory in World War II was breathlessly imminent. The wild exuberance of “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” is not just about the weather. This is the kind of unmixed, jubilant emotion that makes a sailor grab and kiss the first uniformed nurse he can find.
Golden soprano Caitlyn Oenbrink plays Julie Jordan, the millworker who falls for the no-good carousel barker Billy Bigelow. More than a year ago she enthused about the revival of Carousel by a company known for Assassins and Bloody Andrew Jackson. And does that preparation pay off. Her biggest number, “If I Loved You,” would melt the stony heart of the Kansas legislature. Her very different second-act solo, “What’s the Use of Wond’rin?,” displays light lyrical agility in the face of doubt.
New York-based baritone David Kaverman scores as the anti-hero Billy, investing him with a measure of threat and danger, as playwright Ferenc Molnar prescribed in the Hungarian play Liliom, upon which Carousel is based. Endowed with a dynamic stage presence and operatic experience, Kaverman is prepared to bring down the house with the first-act-ending “Soliloquy,” or “My Boy Bill,” one of the most dramatically ambitious of all Rodgers and Hammerstein collaborations.
The other two important finds are the second lead couple, Julie’s co-worker Carrie Pipperidge (Riley Mahn), who marries Enoch Snow (Jacob Carll). Carrie, with a solo and two duets, actually has more lines in the first act than Julie does, but they are lyrical and witty rather than heart-pounding. Mahn, an acting major in the Syracuse University Drama Department, reveals a wicked comic streak and emerges as the principal scene-stealer. Carll also impresses mightily with lesser lines and scores well in the lovely underrated duet, “When the Children are Asleep.”
Company regular Kate Kisselstein as Nettie Fowler delivers two of the show’s most memorable show-stoppers, the oft-cited “June” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” a secular hymn. Kisselstein is a bit young for a role usually assigned to a matronly sort, but her chops are audibly mature.
Veteran player Kathy Burke Egloff hits a career high in the non-singing role of Mrs. Mullin, the brash carousel owner, as the actress mines a vein of needfulness. Cortland-based professional Kim Hubbard is divinely detached as the Starkeeper. Eric Feldstein’s acid wit yields bitter laughter from the crime instigator Jigger.
The upcoming move from a small stage to several new ones in the remodeled Sibley’s department store is hardly as eventful as the vanquishing of fascism, but it’s easy to see Carousel as an unconscious self-dramatization of a Redhouse reinventing itself.