In this week’s Wall Street Journal drama column, written from the road, I report on a New Haven show, Long Wharf Theatre’s revival of Carousel, plus an important off-Broadway event, the American premiere of Conor McPherson’s Port Authority. Here’s an excerpt.
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From the Broadway run of “August: Osage County” and the Off Broadway transfer of “Adding Machine” to the regional-theater Tony awarded to Chicago Shakespeare Theater, this was the season when East Coast playgoers found out for themselves that theater in Chicago is as good as it gets. Now comes yet another Windy City stunner to hammer home the point. The Court Theatre’s small-scale production of “Carousel,” co-produced with New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre, has moved from Chicago to its second home in Connecticut. If you were impressed by Lincoln Center Theater’s handsome hit version of “South Pacific,” prepare to be floored: This “Carousel,” staged by Charles Newell, the Court’s artistic director, is the best Rodgers and Hammerstein revival I’ve ever seen.
Unlike Bartlett Sher’s freshened-up but fundamentally conventional “South Pacific,” Mr. Newell’s “Carousel” is a wholly original, deeply creative transformation of a musical that has always struck me as an uncomfortable blend of realism and sentimentality. Not since John Doyle’s similarly scaled staging of “Company” have I seen a musical revival that completely changed the way I felt about a show I thought I knew by heart….
Mr. Newell’s “Carousel” is played out on a near-bare thrust stage by a skeleton crew of 15 actors and accompanied not by a luscious-sounding pit band but a frugal 10-piece orchestra. No drummer, no synthesizer, no fancy sets, no wireless mikes, nothing but the show itself, unadorned and true. The result is a startlingly intimate “Carousel” that is all the more affecting for being so simple. Even the sentimentality becomes believable once it’s pared down to life size…
Conor McPherson, who knocked me flat in December with “The Seafarer,” is back in town with the American premiere of “Port Authority.” Written in 2002, it’s a series of interwoven monologues by three unhappy Irishmen waiting for a bus, and if that sounds like the start of an ethnic joke, don’t be thrown off the scent: The 37-year-old Mr. McPherson is already a class-A playwright, and “Port Authority,” like “The Seafarer,” comes from out of his top drawer….
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Read the whole thing here.