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Review Round-up: Critics whirling for Carousel

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Rodgers and Hammerstein's "golden age" musical Carousel opened to press last week (17 August) at the Barbican Theatre. The musical, delivered in operatic style, tells the story of pensive mill-girl Julie Jordan (Katherine Manley) and her destructive and impulsive relationship with carnival shyster Billy Bigelow (Michael Todd Simpson).

Opera North's revival, directed by Jo Davies and conducted by James Holmes, runs at the Barbican Theatre until 15 September 2012.

Dancers Carl Pattrick, Jake Bowerman, Paul Smethurst and Simon Jaymes. Photo: Alastair Muir

Michael Coveney

It is 20 years now since Nicholas Hytner's definitive revival of Carousel at the National Theatre, but this… does not fare badly in comparison… There is nothing melodramatic about the revelations of carnival barker Billy Bigelow’s bad behaviour: Michael Todd Simpson simply sings the role as a feckless drifter, so that Katherine Manley’s delightful Julie Jordan is both plausibly attracted to him and devastated by the tragedy that envelops them…. The singing throughout is excellent, too, Yvonne Howard's Nettie Flower releasing all the joy and glee of “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” as well as the anthemic grandeur of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”… it’s worth saying that the sound balance at the Barbican is perfect, unaffected by the crude amplification that blights so many musical theatre performances these days… A great evening.

Tom Wicker
Time Out

With its wife-beating antihero and early dramatic climax, it's no mean feat to make Carousel a satisfying experience. Opera North's revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's most operatic musical is richly orchestrated and vibrant - even if it doesn't capture all of its darker edges… Jo Davies's production is generally stronger at spectacle than subtlety, a haunting ballet sequence aside. It blazes into life with each well-choreographed chorus number: hearing the music sung by such talented singers and played by a full-strength orchestra is a pleasure. 'June Is Bustin' Out All Over' is joyous, and although Billy's ham-dram death is disappointing, Yvonne Howard's gorgeous rendition of 'You'll Never Walk Alone' rescues it from football stadium banality and will have you choking back tears.

Michael Billington

I've always thought there's a dodgy brilliance to Carousel. Musically it is far and away the most sophisticated of the Rodgers and Hammerstein operettas, yet lyrically it comes perilously close to acceptance of the inevitability of domestic violence. The great virtue of Jo Davies's Opera North revival is that it addresses these issues head-on rather than sweeping them under the carpet… Michael Todd Simpson, who has sung Don Giovanni in America, is an outstanding Billy: darkly menacing yet not without a certain self-awareness… Katherine Manley also endows Julie with a moody rebelliousness that suggests she's well matched with a social outcast such as Billy… easily the best Carousel since Nicholas Hytner's National Theatre revival nearly 20 years ago.

Libby Purves
The Times

…If there is one classic musical that deserves an opera company - strong voices, full orchestra, swarming chorus, James Holmes on the baton - it is this. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s darkest story has as much spoken dialogue as any theatre musical but is essentially made of songs fully operatic in their close, sensitive following of each character’s emotional pulse… Davies and Ward are right to eschew gimmicky updating… The task, therefore, is not to fiddle around, but to serve the material, and this it does. Michael Todd Simpson has a surly bad-boy charm as Billy, and Katherine Manley is a Julie Jordan who from the start lives up to Carrie’s description “quieter ’n’ deeper than a well”… Got me hook, line and sinker, as the fishermen would say.

Sarah Hemming
Financial Times

There is a wistful quality that runs through Carousel, despite its famously rousing… First performed in 1945, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical, about the ill-fated marriage between a fairground barker and a mill girl, spoke to an audience familiar with loss, longing and regret… Julie (a lovely, warm performance from Katherine Manley) falls for the roguish Billy Bigelow. Michael Todd Simpson’s Billy, with his hair curling over his collar, has the right touch of sexy danger, but also projects his character’s volatility and vulnerability. All four interpret the songs with great subtlety and, as opera singers, are able to unleash real power… There are sore spots: Billy’s death is rather underwhelming and the musical’s suggestion that a slap can feel like a kiss still strikes me as deeply dubious. But this is an excellent production.

Fiona Mountford
Evening Standard

There's no getting around the fact that for all its status as one of the "golden era" greats of Broadway, Carousel (1945) is a peculiar musical... Jo Davies's production is decorous if underpowered, with some of the leads struggling to come into sharp enough focus. Katherine Manley as Julie Jordan, who falls for volatile fairground barker Billy Bigelow (Michael Todd Simpson), fails to make much of an impression... Anthony Ward has created an elegant set, on which the lights of the New England shoreline twinkle attractively in the distance. Even so, it would be to everyone's benefit if we could be made to care a little more about the doomed romance at the show's centre.

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