When it comes to Musicals, there is nothing like the old classics- the works of Rodgers and Hammerstein being among my favorites. One of our local companies, Light Opera Works manages to bring these old classics to their stages ( they have two venues in Evanston) and manages to find some wonderful talent to do this. The biggest problem they have with their “big” musicals, those with a full orchestra, performed at the beautiful Cahn Auditorium located on the campus of Northwestern University, is the run. Due to the costs of the theater facility and the full orchestra, they can only offer 8 performances, but these performances are worth the drive to Evanston and the walk from the city lot to Emerson Street.
Their current production is “Carousel”, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s look at Molnar’s play “Liliom” as adapted to English by Benjamin F. Glazer. a marvelous look at love from different angles. The setting is a small fishing town in New England where the majority of men are fisherman and the women who are not raising children work at the mill. As the center of the community, is an amusement park where the barker for its Carousel, Billy Bigelow( a marvelous find in Cooper David Grodin who has a powerful voice for the big songs this character sings), a handsome man who is adored by all of the local women; a man with no cares and a lot of ego. He weds young Julie Jordan ( a delightful and heart-wrenching performance by Natalie Ford) a mill worker and loses his job over this. As time goes on, Billy becomes a different man and when he finds out Julie is with child, he is determined to do whatever it takes to make sure that his child leads a better life than his. This is where the powerful “Soliloquy” takes place and Mr. Grodin truly nailed this song-
The path Billy takes is to pull off a robbery with a sailor, Jigger Craigin ( the always reliable Jeremy Trager). The robbery fails and Billy dies. In Heaven he is given an opportunity to go back to Earth for his daughter’s graduation from High School. Her life, due to who her father was has been miserable and unhappy. In this wonderful sequence of evnts we see a change in Billy and Julie and of course his beautiful daughter Louise ( Nicole Miller who handles the “Ballet” in Act Two ( with the strong Todd Rhoades) to perfection. I for one found a tear or two during this portion of the play as Billy teaches his daughter and wife a lesson about the power of love. This is a strong ensemble and one of the finest productions of this classic musical in recent times.
Directed and choreographed by Stacey Flaster, who keeps getting stronger and stronger with her re-invention of some of the musicals we have loved over the years. Ms Flaster brings new ideas and powerful feelings to her interpretations. She is a perfectionist making sure that each and every detail is perfect. Tom Burch has designed a set that will truly give you the feeling that you are near the docks of a fishing community and the masterful opening number, “Prologue” is a true work of art- jugglers, a bearded lady, a stilt walker, and of course the “Carousel” itself, created with one horse and several ensemble members circling the centerpiece. All this to the wonderful orchestra, led by Roger L. Bingaman, playing the music with the spirit intended by its creators. We as an audience get pulled into the community and get to visualize some of the relationships of the citizens without one word being uttered. Between this number, the Ballet and “Soliloquy”, “A Real Nice Clambake”, “If I Loved You” ,”June is Bustin Out All Over” and of course “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, you can’t help but get emotionally involved in the lives of these characters.
Speaking of characters, what makes this show so special is the other major love story- that of Julie’s best friend, Carrie ( a delightful andstrong performance by Elizabeth Lanza) and her beau, one Enoch Snow( George Keating has moved from ensemble member to marvelous character actor over the years and what he does with Mr. Snow is one of his best). They supply most of the comedy andboth have marvelous voices for their “Mister Snow” and “When The Children Are Asleep”. The ensemble players in this cast are all solid with many taking on a lot of roles and for the most part, we as an audience cannot tell who they were before, and do no care as each character they take on has his or her own flavor. They should be proud of their work:Winifred Faix Brown, Mandy Modic,Kristen Noto,Mandy Nousain, Amy Orman, Katherine L. Condit, Bill Chamberlain, Michael Reckling,Matthew Rice,Daniel Spagnuolo,Olivia Texidor,Kingsley Day, Karissa Barney, John Weicher, Brooks Whitlock,David E. Wojtowicz, Hannah Whitlock,Amanda Hays, Chris Carter, Rachel Burt, Robert Brady, Bobby Johnson, Christian Ketter, Evan Lerner, Diane Mair and Yvonne Strumecki. Bravo!
For those out there that enjoy the old standards, the musicals prior to the “rock” sound opera-types, here is your chance to see a classic musical that will give you two and a half hours of pure entertainment, but only until the end of the month. Yes, sorry to say, Light Opera Works marvelous production of “Carousel” will only be around through August 29th with performances as follows:
Saturday, August 14th at 8 p.m.
Sunday at 2 p.m
Wednesday, August 18th at 2 p.m. and then the following week Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. Saturday the 28th at 8 p.m. as well
Sunday the 22nd and 29th at 2 p.m.
Tickets range from $32 to $92 with special rates for children 21 andunder. While this may seem a bit high, I can tell you that a musical of this splendor is worth every dime- this is as good or better than many of the “Broadway” road shows that come in town at much higher rates, plus parking is easier in Evanston ( and less pricey) as are the restaurants in the area. To order you tickets for this sparkling production call 847-869-6300 or online www.lightoperaworks.com
Future shows coming in that you will want to mark down on your to do list- “I Do! I Do!” October) and “Hello ,Dolly “(Their Holiday Production in December, another short run with full orchestra)
Seeing is believing when it comes to quality theater and Light Opera Works provides ( under the careful direction of Stacey Flaster) a charming re-invention of one of musical theater’s masterpieces.