Carousel – Review – Leeds Grand Theatre

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Carousel – Review

Leeds Grand, May 2015

by Sandra Callard

I have seen many of Opera North’s operatic productions, but never a Broadway classic. I am interested to see if the versatility of the company would produce its usual high standard. Well, it does – in spades. This is a beautiful and heart-warming show that eclipses any Carousel I have previously seen.

'Carousel' Musical performed by Opera North at the Grand Theatre, Leeds, UKWe’re all familiar with the songs from the show. They have been sung by great singers and actors of stage and screen. But to hear these glorious songs sung by operatic voices gives them a new and thrilling dimension. When Yvonne Howard, playing Nettie Fowler, sings ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, a song better-known as a football anthem, her voice brings out the beauty and pathos of the words. I am not the only member of the audience surreptitiously wiping an eye.

In later scenes Keith Higham absolutely storms the part of Billy Bigelow. He brings a further dimension of power and raw emotion to the beautiful song. Carousel was written in 1945, when so many are still grieving for loved ones lost in the Second World War. This song must have seemed particularly poignant to them, with its eternal theme of loss and redemption. Opera North’s full strength orchestra soar to the rafters as song after glorious song uplifts and moves the packed theatre.

“Emotional pull is palpable”

The cast is superb. In particular Aoife O’Sullivan, who plays the feisty and charming Carrie Pipperedge. Obviously she can sing and dance, but she also possesses a comedian’s talent for timing. She executes her one-liners brilliantly. Her personality, as she evolves from working mill girl to society wife is done with charm and authenticity. She sings ‘When I Marry Mr Snow’ with such fervent hope for the future that it contrasts vividly with Julie Jordan, who has no expectations, but her abiding love for Billy. Julie is beautifully played by Gillene Butterfield and, as she sings ‘If I Loved You’ to Billy, the emotional pull is palpable.

'Carousel' Musical performed by Opera North at the Grand Theatre, Leeds, UKOther smaller parts also struck a chord with me. I love Michele Moran’s Mrs Mullin, ex-boss of Billy, who carries a torch for him and subsequently has to face up to the fact that Billy has never and will never, love her. Her brittle, hard-as-nails character shows her vulnerability in this one touching respect. I also like Joseph Shovelton’s characterisation of Mr Snow, who he manages to make likeable in spite of his boring and staid persona.

“Impeccably styled”

The two Acts of the show are distinctly different in tone and action. The former is a joyous introduction to life and love in 19th century New England. The second is a darker, emotional rollercoaster of death, fantasy and retribution, forever holding on to the haunting theme of eternal love.

Carousel contains some of the most moving and uplifting music in stage history. This production, by director Jo Davies, presents them in a way that I have never before encountered. The cast and the styles are impeccable. It reaches out and touches the hearts of the audience in a most visible way. At the end, theatre goers lose their British reserve and cry and laugh and speak to each other in the seats behind or in the car park, as they leave the theatre. They are congratulating themselves that they chose to attend this most wonderful of shows.

images: Alastair Muir

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