When the clambake’s over, Billy kills himself in the muddle after a failed robbery. But the optimism, now mixed with stoicism, starts over again: Nettie Fowler consoles Julie by assuring her she’ll never walk alone, Billy descends from celestial eternity to witness his daughter’s graduation and the New England community holding their head high in the wind and the rain like a terrace full of well-behaved Liverpool supporters.
For a touring production, Lindsay Posner’s show is outstanding, but it won’t dislodge memories of Nicholas Hytner’s definitive National revival in 1992, which seems only yesterday. The sound amplification is dodgy, with a hard metallic edge, but the playing of Richard Rodgers’ brilliant score under the musical directorship of David Firman is well above average.
And Hammerstein’s lyrics are surely his best, and mostly audible. Designer William Dudley continues his experimentation with video projections melding into scrims and painted scenery, most notably in the fairground prologue, a riot of colour and dancing carousel horses, and in a rapid night-time journey back across the bay to the scene of the crime.
This cinematic realism is technically impressive but theatrically dubious. Posner’s actors, especially the vocally impressive Alexander Silber as a touching Julie and Jeremiah James as a muscular Billy, play the heart of the piece with stirring conviction. And although Leslie Garrett does a bit too much “jolly up” acting as Nettie Fowler, even threatening to bust out all over from her corsetry, along with June, she sings the big number magnificently. Lauren Hood is a delightful Carrie, Alan Vicary her mellifluous Mr Snow and Graham MacDuff a splendid villain.
The Hytner production had the last choreography ever made by the late Kenneth MacMillan, and Adam Cooper’s is no less imaginative. There’s a joyous hornpipe and harpooning showdown for the whaling party in leather jerkins, and a fantastically well conceived ensemble beach ballet. At the schoolhouse finale, the American flag flutters and a ship sets sail in another dimension of filmed reality. What is the point of that, I wonder?
- Michael Coveney