Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Arena Stage
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's recent review of Mary Poppins

Nicholas Rodriguez and
Betsy Morgan

Photo by Tony Powell
Director Molly Smith's background in classical theater serves her brilliantly in her rapturous production of Carousel now in the Fichandler Stage at Washington's Arena Stage. The depths of character and darkness of tone were always waiting in Oscar Hammerstein II's book and lyrics and Richard Rodgers' music, but they don't often come through as clearly as they do here.

First things first: Todd Rosenthal's non-realistic but evocative set. The octagonal central stage built of whitewashed planks suggests a lighthouse, accessible by walkways from the four corners of the theater and enhanced with two concentric turntables. Some members of the orchestra perform from a bandstand on the "roof" of the structure, while others play from underneath the stage.

Smith, along with choreographer Parker Esse, uses stylized movement and pantomime to keep the human drama from getting lost in picturesque scenes of the 19th-century Maine coast. The carnival where factory worker Julie Jordan (Betsy Morgan) meets barker Billy Bigelow (Nicholas Rodriguez) grows organically from a few crates and members of the ensemble portraying carnival performers (bearded lady, dancing bear, weight lifter) into a rotating carousel with live "horses." For that matter, the later ballet involving Julie and Billy's daughter Louise (Skye Mattox) and a carnival boy (Michael Graceffa) includes some rather Freudian man-monsters.

Morgan demonstrates that Julie, despite staying with a proud man who keeps getting in his own way and once hit her, is no victim. She has a backbone, stands up for herself and never falls into self-pity. In this interpretation, the problematic song "What's the Use of Wond'rin" sums up Julie's philosophy: Billy has problems but so does she, and she accepts him despite them—maybe more than she should.

Rodriguez is a strong, swaggering Billy who nails all the elements of "Soliloquy," from macho pride to fear and resolution. He plays the role with rugged physicality and a touch of a New York accent, suggesting his upbringing in urban slums before he discovered the carnival life.

Kyle Schliefer practically slithers as Jigger Craigin, while E. Faye Butler makes Mrs. Mullin, Billy's jealous employer, more prominent than she may ever have been before. (She doesn't even have a song.) Kate Rockwell and Kurt Boehm demonstrate a good push and pull as spirited Carrie Pipperidge and ambitious Enoch Snow.

Esse took inspiration for his dances from Agnes de Mille's work on the 1945 Broadway premiere, but his choreography goes in new directions. In addition to the propulsive opening to the "Carousel Waltz," he marshals his male dancers in "Blow High, Blow Low" in a blend of ballet, gymnastics and hornpipe, and "June Is Bustin' Out All Over" soars with leaps and lifts.

Arena Stage
October 28th - December 24th, 2016
Music by Richard Rodgers
Book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Based on Ferenc Molnar's play Liliom as adapted by Benjamin F. Glazer
Carrie Pipperidge: Kate Rockwell
Julie Jordan: Betsy Morgan
Mrs. Mullin: E. Faye Butler
Billy Bigelow/Fight Captain: Nicholas Rodriguez
David Bascombe/Ensemble: Thomas Adrian Simpson
Nettie Fowler: Ann Arvia
Enoch Snow/Ensemble: Kurt Boehm
Jigger Craigin/Ensemble: Kyle Schliefer
Captain/Ensemble: Stephawn Stephens
Heavenly Friend/Ensemble: Nicole Wildy
Starkeeper/Ensemble: Joshua Otten
Louise Bigelow/Ensemble: Skye Mattox
Carnival Boy/Ensemble: Michael Graceffa
Enoch Snow Jr./Ensemble: Jacob Beasley
Mrs. Bascombe/Ensemble: Rayanne Gonzales
Ensemble/Dance Captain: Tony Neidenbach
Ensemble: Gracie Jones, Danielle Sue Jordan, Ethan Kasnett, Emma Sophie Moore, Bridget Riley, Paul Scanlan, Jessica Wu, Phil Young
Female Swing: Katie Arthur
Male Swing: Jay Westin
Heavenly Friend and Starkeeper Understudy: Isabella Brody
Directed by Molly Smith
Choreography by Parker Esse
Music direction and adapted orchestrations by Paul Sportelli
Fichandler Stage, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, 1101 Sixth St. SW
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or

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