The Rodgers and Hammerstein classic Carousel is given a hearty revival at the home of the English National Opera.
Star castings and semi-staged productions are now an annual affair at the Coliseum – most recently giving us the Oliver-nominated Sunset Boulevard, with Glenn Close making her West End debut.
This year, it’s Alfie Boe and Katherine Jenkins – she, again, in a debut role – who are tasked with pulling in the punters. For that, there should be no trouble (both have huge fan bases) and the choice of production – the self-confessed composer’s favourite of all their musicals – is sure to delight audiences.
Narratively, Carousel follows the doomed romance between carousel barker Billy Bigelow (Boe) and millworker Julie Jordan (Jenkins), which ultimately comes at the price of both their jobs. Billy is abusive and stubborn. He beats his wife and soon finds himself out of work and on the wrong side of the law.
After a fumbled burglary goes wrong, he commits suicide. In heaven, he is offered a second chance by The Starkeeper – a sort of celestial official for the Pearly Gates (played gleefully by Nicholas Lyndhurst here) – to make amends and become a guardian angel to the daughter he has left behind.
It might seem like heavy stuff, but in true Rodgers and Hammerstein style there’s a healthy dose of comedy and light-heartedness that helps balance this, too.
Some of this comes from Boe and Jenkins themselves, who are perfectly adequate in their roles. At the beginning of the show in particular they’re having lots of fun and both have stunning vocals that really deliver. If I Loved You, for instance, is wonderfully charming; while the classic standard Soliloquy is deftly handled by Boe.
Really though, it’s the wider cast who truly impress here. Alex Young – who was exceptional in Show Boat and Promises, Promises recently – is knock-out as Julie’s best pal Carrie, (You’re a Queer One, Julie Jordan is just perfect), while Gavin Spokes, as her love interest gives as wonderful a performance as his sterling turn in Guys & Dolls last year.
Musically, the show works best during the ensemble numbers, which aside from the heart-wrenching You’ll Never Walk Alone and the stunning ballet sequence in act two, tend to fall on the bright and breezy side of Carousel’s narrative.
Blow High, Blow Low and This Was A Real Nice Clambake are rousing numbers, full of mirth; and Brenda Edwards as Nettie Fowler delivers June Is Bustin’ Out All Over with such gusto that the tune is still firmly stuck in mind days later.
Such jollity is further bolstered by an impressive, sparkling set – which, for a semi-staged production, feels incredibly well put together. In fact, on the Coliseum’s grand stage, it literally shines with animated backdrops, Vaudeville-style lettering and a gorgeous, revolving centre that gives the illusion of an all-singing, all-dancing fairground attraction on more than one occasion. You can’t help but feel giddy watching it.
Carousel is currently showing at the London Coliseum and tickets are on sale now. Get yours via Ticketmaster.co.uk and pay no booking fees.