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Jack O’Brien is very smart, but his Broadway revival of “Carousel” is uneven, enough so that those who know the show may find it a disappointment—though they’ll certainly be staggered by the singing. Jessie Mueller, Joshua Henry and Lindsay Mendez, who play Julie, Billy, and Carrie, are all such resplendently fine vocalists that they need make no apologies for sharing a stage with Renée Fleming, who plays Nettie Fowler and so gets to sing “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Voice for voice, I’ve never heard a better-sung revival of a golden-age musical.
So what’s wrong? Mr. O’Brien’s “Carousel” feels slick, like an old-master painting that has been garishly over-restored. Not only are Santo Loquasto’s elaborate sets too pretty—and, in the case of the second-act vision of heaven, too campy—but Mr. O’Brien has also seen fit to have the whole show rechoreographed by Justin Peck of New York City Ballet. It’s not merely that the original dances, by Agnes de Mille, are a time-honored part of “Carousel”: They’re as masterly as the ones made by Jerome Robbins for “West Side Story,” and shouldn’t be replaced unless the new ones are decisive improvements. Not so Mr. Peck’s choreography, most of which is no more than fluent, while his one striking contribution, a vigorous all-male dance in the style of Michael Kidd’s work on “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” is less appropriately characterful than de Mille’s hornpipe….
Mark Medoff’s “Children of a Lesser God,” in which a deaf woman and her speech therapist meet cute, get married and discover that he Just Doesn’t Understand Her, was a huge hit on Broadway in 1979 and an even bigger one when it was filmed seven years later. But unlike Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” a problem play that has remained compelling long after the issues it portrays have evolved almost beyond recognition, “Children” is too dramatically creaky to survive its own transformation into a period piece. Today we want to see inside the deaf culture at whose existence Mr. Medoff hints, instead of merely looking at it through a window. To be sure, it is always instructive to watch a well-meaning liberal being flagellated by the objects of his thoughtless condescension, as happens to the therapist in “Children,” but the only other thing the play now has to offer is a chance for a virtuoso deaf actor to strut her stuff.
That’s the main point of Kenny Leon’s new Broadway revival, which stars Lauren Ridloff, who had never acted professionally prior to starring last summer in the Berkshire Theater Group production of “Children.” Her performance is stupendously bold and expressive….
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To read my review of Carousel, go here.
To read my review of Children of a Lesser God, go here.
An archival silent film of the second-act ballet sequence from Carousel, 1945 Broadway production, including Bambi Linn, Annabelle Lyon, and Robert Pagent, synchronized to a recording of the orchestral score:
The trailer for the Broadway revival of Children of a Lesser God: