IF there was a rulebook that set out how to create a musical, Rodgers and Hammerstein chucked it away when they created Carousel.
* * * * *
Festival Theatre, Nicolson Street
In place of a jaunty template of boy meets girl accompanied by jolly songs, arrived a rollercoaster operetta which, despite the title’s hint of fairground fun ahead, delved into dark issues and provocative moral themes.
At its heart struts gritty fairground barker Billy. Handy with his fists, he catches Julie’s eye, setting the Carousel spinning towards a marriage that is doomed from the start.
The result is a sometimes bleak journey through wife assault, armed robbery, suicide and redemption – weighty stuff for musical.
With so many issues to play with, it could become an over the top dramatic blitz. Instead Opera North uses pared down simplicity, a deceptively clever set, moody lighting and muted tones to let the story shine through.
Keith Higham successfully captures Billy’s complex character, his blood red shirt a flash of colour in an otherwise washed out set.
His showpiece, Soliloquy, in which his thoughts turn to his unborn child, may not be as familiar June is Bustin’ Out All Over and You’ll Never Walk alone, but his sensitive delivery makes it a high point.
Gillene Butterfield’s Julie is burdened by an uncomfortable storyline of unconditional love despite Billy’s fists. However comic relief comes from her delightfully quirky friend Carrie, played superbly by Lorna James, and her safe but dull husband Enoch Snow (Joseph Shovelton).
The second half takes the ghostly Billy back to earth to find daughter Louise, played by Oxgangs girl Beverley Grant. Trapped by the sins of her father, her delicate barefoot dance is a mesmerising interpretation of a teenage girl’s desperate search for affection.
But Carousel is about one song in particular. Yvonne Howard’s haunting solo rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone filled the theatre, while the ensemble’s hymn like rendition was about as far from the football terrace as possible.
Provocative, moving and intense with songs to lift the spirits. What’s not to love about the Carousel?
Run ends Saturday