Send in the clowns

By LLOYD SCHWARTZ  |  June 19, 2007

The show opens with the “Carousel Waltz” — music on the level of Bernstein’s Candide Overture. Lockhart’s brisk tempo captured its calliope quality, and the breathlessness of being on a merry-go-round in full tilt. The Rodgers and Hammerstein Foundation has rescued the original orchestration, with its rich complement of strings and atmospheric writing for winds, and the way the musical setting responds to Hammerstein’s lyrics. Two phrases falling from increasingly greater heights after the lines “If I loved you,/Words wouldn’t come in an easy way” suggest the miraculous way music can express something words can’t.

My only reservation about Lockhart’s conducting was in Billy Bigelow’s “Soliloquy (My Boy Bill).” Broadway leading man Aaron Lazar has a vibrant high baritone voice; he can really sing this challenging role, which was written for the late John Raitt, Bonnie’s legendary father. But Lockhart’s pace, in a song that veers between emotional extremes, didn’t allow Lazar enough time to sound as if he were really thinking aloud, spontaneously discovering each new wrinkle (“Wait a minute — what if ‘he’ is a girl?”). Billy sounded less surprised than rehearsed. Still, he brought down the house. Given the original orchestration and the acoustics of Symphony Hall, though, was it really necessary to amplify the singers?

The cast was a superb mixture of solid pros and young Fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center. Without program bios, it would be hard to tell them apart. The R&H Foundation has approved a skillfully edited performing version that abbreviates the spoken dialogue and connects the dots with minimal narration. Shear Madness star Patrick O’Shea made a sympathetic narrator and played a variety of smaller non-singing roles. Paula Plum (Mrs. Mullen) humanized the possessive carousel owner still in love with Billy. Rebecca Eichenberger (Aunt Nettie) was as rousing in “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over” as she was fervent in “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” I loved watching the Tanglewood Festival Chorus swaying broadly at the clambake. Mezzo Rebecca Jo Loeb (Carrie) and tenor Matthew Anderson (Mr. Snow) made a delightfully well-matched pair of impressive singers with lively comic timing. Mischa Bouvier (Jigger) had his villainous tongue in his cheek and a ringing baritone; he could even throw Carrie over his shoulder in a fireman’s lift. Canadian soprano Eve-Lyn de la Haye was a near-perfect Julie, the role created by the heartbreaking Jan Clayton (later the mother on Lassie) — a shy young woman with the spine to live by what’s in her heart. She needed to be the emotional bedrock, and she was.

Even with scripts in their hands, the players moved about the stage effortlessly and with point. And they all wore just the right clothes. If you missed Carousel at Symphony Hall, you can catch it at Tanglewood on July 10.

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