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LA Theater Review


Though classics from the 1940s and '50s by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II have long served as regional-theater staples, a renaissance of sorts for these golden oldies seems to have emerged in the last two decades. Fresh looks at the Rodgers and Hammerstein oeuvre have disproved charges that the works are "dated." Indeed, in many ways, the thoughtful musical drama "Carousel" (1945)—exploring social themes such as spousal abuse, cold-blooded crime, and death in the family—was far ahead of its time in the musical genre. Downey Civic Light Opera's revival pulls no punches in illuminating the story's dark themes. Director Marsha Moode's production isn't fully successful in sustaining this challenging piece throughout a three-hour running time. Yet her staging is thankfully bolstered by several stellar performances and the excellence of Eddy Clement's music direction and conducting and Janet Renslow's choreography.

The star-crossed romance between headstrong carnival barker Billy Bigelow (Robert Standley) and valiant but long-suffering Julie Jordan (Jill Van Velzer) plays out against an ethereal backdrop of fate and the afterlife. Standley and Van Velzer are virtuoso performers who bring out the shimmering beauty of love ballads such as "If I Loved You." Each sparkles in solos as well, such as his dazzling "Soliloquy" and her heart-wrenching "What's the Use of Wond'rin"—a paean to the helplessness of head-over-heels love. Standley's portrayal is a potent mix of pompous bravado and surprising vulnerability, while Van Velzer's wonderfully understated take on her role is marked with dignity, grace, and a formidable inner strength.

The supporting work is likewise terrific. Ann Peck McBride's motherly Aunt Nettie brings great warmth to the proceedings, and she offers tour de force renditions of songs such as "June Is Busting Out All Over" and the haunting "You'll Never Walk Alone." George Champion's smarmy villain Jigger is alternately amusing and chilling, Kit Wilson is drolly funny and in splendid voice as eccentric Enoch Snow, and sweet-voiced Andrea Dodson is a nonstop delight as perky Carrie Pipperidge. Jenny Bloom's lighting and Elizabeth Bowen's costumes provide visual splendor.

Moode would do well to sharpen the pace at times, particularly in the second act. Nonetheless, this revisit to a legendary Broadway tuner offers abundant rewards.

Presented by Downey Civic Light Opera at the Downey Theatre, 8435 E. Firestone Blvd., Downey. May 28–June 13. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.

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