Carousel’s emotions, moods vividly depicted in Actors Playhouse outsanding production

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CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Many would argue that, in today’s troubled world, we especially need to hear the comforting

song “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

The moving, majestic, memorable melody is one of many Richard Rodgers’ and Oscar Hammerstein II’s gems that stick

in our mind and soul once we’ve heard it.

The song about weathering a dark and scary time is compassionately sung with dignity in Actors’ Playhouse at the

Miracle Theatre’s first-rate production of “Carousel.” 

On the Miracle Theatre’s stage through Sunday in Coral Gables, Fla., you’ll experience some of the strongest

performances you’ll encounter this theater season in a near-flawless rendition of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic

musical featuring triple threats.

Under artistic director David Arisco’s sensitive, smart staging and guidance, a phenomenal cast of performers make you

forget they’re performing. Arisco and Co. transport us so fully to the New England coast of the late 1800s, (beautifully

depicted through scenic designer Tim Bennet’s handsome, detailed sets), you’ll be as baffled as the characters if

something called a “cell phone” rings.

Cast members inhabit their roles so fully, you’ll want to hop on-stage to comfort them and celebrate with them.

Part of the reason “Carousel” is a rich, winning musical is that it encompasses a near-full range of experiences, emotions

and feelings we’re bound to experience – heartache, love, anger, anxiety,

sadness, camaraderie, celebration and compassion, to name a few. Many would argue that the latter is sorely lacking

today, but it’s on heartfelt display in this production.

The sincere sympathy comes while mill worker Julie Jordan kneels at the corpse of carnival barker Billy Bigelow, who

has died trying to provide money for his soon-to-be child, unborn in Jordan’s womb.

It’s fitting, perhaps, that Jordan is played by an actress who shares the first name of her character. Julie Kleiner, who

plays Jordan, becomes one with her character and remains so through the many emotions the mill worker

experiences.

During the Bigelow death scene, Jordan is encouraged by respected village resident Nettie Fowler (a motherly, tender

Lourelene Snedeker) to sing a song she’d learned in school: “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Kleiner’s Jordan begins to sing

it in a calm voice to comfort herself, but in a touching, convincing moment of palpable emotional pain, Kleiner chokes

back tears and clenches her teeth in an effort to control herself – she’s trying to keep at bay emotions anyone who’s

lost a loved one has experienced. It becomes clear Jordan cannot continue singing, but Fowler picks up where Jordan

leaves off, singing softly and with gentleness. She slowly builds in intensity before powerfully reaching the song’s

crescendo.

There’s plenty of variety in “Carousel,” and Arisco puts equal emphasis on the musical’s many moods, which are

reinforced by the expert lighting design of Eric Nelson. The designer also nicely contrasts the realistic with the fantastic.

This production treats “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” like the showstopper it is. Bright lights illuminate the stage,

complemented by the cheery, upbeat voices of the cast. They’re backed by a vibrant, live orchestra, which misses nary

a note throughout the score.

As an ensemble, the actors expertly convey the sense of a small, tight-knit community through songs such as the

campfire-like number “A Real Nice Clambake,” whose melody carries an air of quiet satisfaction, joy and serenity.

The actors sway while singing “Clambake” — a wise directorial choice by Arisco; the swaying enhances the sense of

communal togetherness. Even the perhaps lesser-known song “Blow High, Blow Low” conveys a unity among like-

minded people, in this case individuals who love life on the water. It’s hard to carp about this production, but a tug-of-

war match takes place during this song. This seems at odds with the number’s sense of solidarity.

In Rodgers and Hammerstein fashion, “Carousel” tells the tale of a main, serious couple (Bigelow and Jordan) as well as

a subplot featuring a secondary, more comic couple: Carrie Pipperidge (a dreamy Lauren Lukacek, especially during her

rendition of “Mister Snow”) and Enoch Snow (an energetic, eccentric Mark Sanders.)

As is the case in “Oklahoma,” Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first collaboration before “Carousel,” there are extended,

word-less dance sequences that tell the story as much as spoken or sung words.

Choreographer Ron Hutchins’ has helped performers vividly convey feelings, such as in the merriment of the prologue

(“The Carousel Waltz”) when colorful characters emerge during the carnival. The musical and this production of it

contain vibrant, creative dances, executed with verve here, as well as visual delights, including costume designer Ellis

Tillman’s colorful character-and period-appropriate costumes.  

But “Carousel” contains so much more than eye candy.

At its heart, “Carousel’s” the story of a man who largely failed in life. However, he receives a second chance to redeem

himself after he dies.

There’s a primitive quality to Bigelow, a la “A Streetcar Named Desire’s” Stanley Kowalski. Still, we need to root for

Bigelow and that’s a hard task if he comes across as a total brute.

The superb Michael Hunsaker, with a rangy, strong and expressive singing voice, finds the primitive side of Bigelow.

However, he also unearths the helplessness and vulnerability of the character, whom he also invests with a palpable

sense of urgency. You get the feeling that under this Bigelow’s gruff exterior exists a sensitive, soft-hearted man who

wants to do the right thing. However, his temper, impatience and impulsivity get in the way and proves his downfall.

There’s a kind of tragic Shakespearean quality in this man.

Kleiner, especially in the opening scenes, contrasts Hunsaker’s charismatic Bigelow with Jordan’s reserved, submissive

and introspective Jordan. As the show progresses, Kleiner showcases her versatility, deftly endowing Jordan with

qualities ranging from emotional pain to forthrightness.

There’s plenty of frankness in “Carousel.” The ride itself symbolizes life. As life’s circle continuously rotates, we

experience pleasant and dark times. In those moments when light seems absent, songs such as “You’ll Never Walk

Alone” try to remind us there’s light to guide us through our pain. It’s not just at “the end of the tunnel.”

IF YOU GO

WHAT: “Carousel.”

WHEN: Through Sunday

WHERE: Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables. For ticket information, call (305) 444-

9293 or visit www.actorsplayhouse.org.

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