And so the streak continues.
The phenomenal "Carousel" is the latest in a long line of exceptional shows that Rob Ruggiero has directed at the Goodspeed Opera House. It follows "Show Boat," "Annie Get Your Gun," "Camelot," "Big River" and "1776." All were big, bold successes - glorious examples of infusing new life into classic musicals and staging grand shows on Goodspeed's petite stage.
Ruggiero does the same with "Carousel." He makes it all look so easy - finding the humanity and truth in each scene, maintaining the right tone, guiding actors to potent performances, and on it goes.
Of all the musicals Ruggiero has directed at Goodspeed, Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Carousel" might be the most complex. This musical play, as R&H described it, explores a true love that's also a troubled relationship, a union in which the characters don't say "I love you" until it's too late. This musical play reaches for deep emotion, and not just with the tear-inducing "You'll Never Walk Alone."
This story of redemption and hope twines tragedy and comedy. Humor is certainly there, with numbers like the joyful "June is Busting Out All Over" and characters like the fun and flirty Carrie and Enoch. But there is darkness, too, particularly swirling around Billy Bigelow. This lead character may be a damaged soul, but he's a hot-tempered one, too. He dies during a botched robbery attempt.
The most troubling aspect to a modern audience is that Billy hits his wife, Julie Jordan. It's only once, he argues. The Goodspeed production handles the physical abuse as deftly as it can, but Julie and her teenaged daughter's notion - that it's possible for someone to hit a woman hard but for her not to feel it at all - can't help but make theatergoers bristle.
That said, actor James Snyder creates a Billy - that brash carnival barker - who is both confounding and appealing. He walks with a bantam strut. He grins with raffish charm. He revels in his ability to beguile the ladies.
Snyder's Billy melts a bit when he meets Julie and even more when he learns he'll become a father. His "Soliloquy" is simply fabulous, and the way Snyder hits the high notes inspires chills.
Erin Davie, who was so wonderful and regal as Guenevere in Goodspeed's "Camelot," feels as though she's still finding her footing as Julie Jordan. She stepped into the role Aug. 8 after the previous actress, Teal Wicks, left to join the national tour of "Jekyll & Hyde." Davie's Julie seems more emotionally pinched than she should. She never fully drops her primness to express her rapture at being in love with Billy. That sense of bliss is necessary if the audience is to understand why she stays in such a flawed relationship.
Davie is at her best during the emotionally fraught moments, particularly during Billy's death scene. Her grief is palpable. She glows, too, when singing such beauties as "If I Loved You" and "What's the Use of Wond'rin."
The couple providing the buoyant contrast to Billy and Julie's drama are Carrie and Enoch. Jenn Gambatese and Jeff Kready light up the theater with their playfulness. Gambatese, who starred as Annie Oakley in Goodspeed's "Annie Get Your Gun," conveys a frisky spirit, holding her hands to her face when she's embarrassed in front of beau Enoch. Kready giggles with an infectious laugh. Their duets delight, and Gambatese sounds positively angelic on her solo "Mister Snow."
This "Carousel" production also happens to be visually stunning from the get-go, with the lights coming up slowly on shadows of women pantomiming mill work - synchronized drudgery. Julie comes to a stop as she stares off dreamily before being snapped back to the real world by a fellow worker.
The costumes designed by Alejo Vietti and sets by Michael Schweikardt are realistically rustic - this is a 19th-century Maine fishing village, after all - yet thoroughly impressive.
Parker Esse's choreography is as much a part of the storytelling here as the script and the songs. Most remarkable, naturally, is Esse's version of the iconic ballet in which the life of Julie and Billy's now-15-year-old daughter (played by Eloise Krapp) is revealed all in movement.
As for the titular carousel, it is creatively generated via shadows of dancers cast on rounded scrims that circle the stage, eventually revealing the dancers themselves. It's a wonderfully imaginative idea.