Regular readers of this blog might know this already but every year I take my mom to a carefully picked, PG-rated, old-fashioned musical (the only type my mom will go to). I call them momsicals. We've been to Lion King, Cats, Phantom of the Opera, and Hello Dolly!. When I asked her what the next Momsical would be, she said "Carousel." She was adamant about it too, so on April 1 we went to see the new Broadway revival of Carousel.
This revival is directed by Jack O'Brien with choreography by Justin Peck. The producers of this revival have snipped quite a bit of dialogue and also cut two musical numbers: "Geraniums in the Winder" and "Stonecutters Cutting on Wood." As a result the whole thing plays almost like an opera with the occasional recitatives. Sort of appropriate as this is no doubt R&H's most operatic score. The sets are minimalist but quite pretty. Justin Peck's choreography isn't the kind of ballet-lite thing I expected -- more modern dance with moves that wouldn't look out of place in Paul Taylor's company. I think he'll win a Tony for best choreography. I know there's a lot of nostalgia for Agnes de Mille's choreography but I found this clip of the Act 2 ballet and ... it really isn't that great? Peck's choreography is very winning.
And how was it? First things first: my mom absolutely loved every minute of it. The dark, violent storyline didn't seem to bother her as she just soaked in maybe the finest score ever composed for musical theater. So if the goal was to find a momsical that my mom would like, this afternoon was a success.
|Mueller and Henry, photo @ Joan Marcus|
|Ramasar and company, photo @ Joan Marcus|
|Fleming and Mueller, photo @ Joan Marcus|
The weak link was Jessie Mueller (Julie). Julie is actually a brief part, with only two musical numbers and very little actual stage time. Mueller's voice is a sweet soprano. However her voice doesn't bloom or soar in "If I Loved You" and "What's the Use of Wond'rin" but stays very even-keeled. Her stage persona was more problematic than her voice -- she's demure and very much a good girl. But Julie isn't a "good" girl -- she knowingly breaks her curfew to have an encounter with Billy. She knows this action will get her fired and probably lead to sex with Billy. Granted the role is underwritten but I do think Julie's have to show an inner spark and passion. Mueller just doesn't have that rebel vibe to her. The chemistry between her and Josh Henry is not really there.
Alex Gemignani (Enoch Snow) was rather charmless. Usually the officious Enoch gets big laughs but line after line went from Gemignani to crickets from the audience. Whatever he's doing is not reading across the footlights. Also NYCB's Brittany Pollack (Louise) is a wonderful dancer and makes the second act ballet worth watching but her acting is rather stilted and she needs to stop screeching her lines.
|Gemignani and Mendez, photo @ Joan Marcus|
After the show thanks to a friend I got to go backstage and meet Renée Fleming who was so nice and gracious. My mom was a bit tongue-tied but I know she had a wonderful time and that's all that mattered.
As for Carousel nostalgia, here's some priceless footage with the OBC of John Raitt and Jan Clayton. Is Josh Henry John Raitt? No, but he does justice to the role.
|Brandon Victor Dixon and John Legend, photo @ Eric Liebowitz|
When I got home I turned on NBC to watch Jesus Christ Superstar. This 1970 rock musical was Andrew Lloyd Webber when he was still sort of edgy and cool and didn't just raid Puccini for all the sentimental tunes. I don't know whether I was in a good mood or this live concert format was a lot more organic than the "live-on-a-tiny-soundstage" setup they've used in the past for productions like Hairspray and Grease. But I loved every minute of it. The costumes, the warehouse-style setting that made it look like a rave, the mix of musical theater veterans with rockers. I think in the future NBC might want to look at this semi-staged live concert format as the sound-stage "set" musicals have been very awkward.
The casting was so strong. Brandon Victor Dixon (Judas) totally rocked it as Judas. His anthem "Superstar" was truly an 11 o'clock number. Sara Bareilles (Mary Magdalene) has that 1970's folk-rock thing down pat. Her numbers kind of foreshadow the ALW-type ballad but she sang them very well. Alice Cooper made a nice little cameo as Herod. Good to see a septuagenarian rocker still rocking it. Norm Lewis (Caiaphas) and Jin Ha (Annas) blew "This Jesus Must Die" out of the water. I've seen both Norm Lewis and Jin Ha onstage and rarely have I seen them be such scenery-chewers. They were amazing.
The only slight weak link was John Legend as Jesus. Vocally he was great except for a few weird moments in "Gethesmane" but unlike Dixon, Bareilles, Cooper, or Lewis he remained bland and sort of a cipher. But strangely Jesus is the most under-written role of the musical.
But overall great concert. Great energy, great fun. When was the last time you could really put "fun" and ALW in the same sentence? It was played in front of an ecstatic live audience who screamed as loudly as any megachurch congregation. The whole thing felt ... messianic? Jesus has risen ... Happy Easter!