music by Richard Rodgers book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.
Barbican Theatre Silk Street EC2Y 8DS To 15 September 2012.
Mon; Wed-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 55min One interval.
TICKETS: 0845 120 7511.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 9 September.
Stonecutters cut it on stone: woodpeckers peck it on wood; there’s nothing so downright enjoyable as a musical that’s this good.
Even in this austere age, it’s unaccountable there are still tickets going for Opera North’s Barbican season. I say that having joined the ride late in the run. It’s one to haunt the mind. Richard Rodgers’ score is generously supplied with tunes, any of which would make a lesser composer’s show. Even those not standalone hits show their dramatic strength in Jo Davies’ well-considered production.
As with last year’s Barbican South Pacific (from a different team), this production finds its emotional heart not in one of the ‘big’ tunes. It comes in Julie Jordan’s ‘What’s the Use of Wond’rin?’, preparing for her grief at her ne’er-do-well husband’s death, itself eloquently surrounded by silence before life’s moved on by ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ (music theatre’s ‘Nessun Dorma’, and apt in a way not recaptured by the similarly anthemic ‘Climb Every Mountain’).
Billy’s Monologue, musicals’ answer to the ‘Credo’ of Verdi’s Iago, shows the writers’ adventurousness. Oscar Hammerstein II’s book explores dark themes – as lighting designer Bruno Poet reflects in the dark scenes of Billy’s lifetime.
Poet also provides circulating patterns for the opening Waltz, its circling actors introducing the theme of outsider and community (yes, it’s also the pair’s Peter Grimes), imagining Billy’s boyhood and balancing the final look ahead to his second chance with life. Then the physical carousel emerges; the fairground’s just part of life, as behind-the-scenes glimpses emphasise. The opening also introduces the idea of the complacent community, later epitomised in the enormous Snow family, Enoch’s children picking up his nervous giggle, the laugh of the humourless.
The acting’s OK (though it takes non-singing Candida Benson to create character in detail). But when the music starts there’s nothing to beat operatic training and technique. Soft, sustained vocal lines allow a restraint matched in the orchestral playing, focusing on character and situation, creating intensity without needing repeated loud climaxes. Which means emotions let rip where they should, in the ballet and final chorus, where Julie stands by her daughter Louise against the small-town prejudice expressed in the half-hearted applause when the girl collects her diploma. It’s intelligently magical throughout.
(Where two cast members are listed, the first is the one in the performance reviewed.)
Young Billy: Jonas Fossgard/Mitchell Jelley/Anton Joseph/Oliver Mozley/Daniel Woolfenden.
Teenage Billy: Brandon Eaglestone/Nathan Louis-Ferrand/Alessandro Solomon.
Billy’s Father: Nicholas Cass-Beggs/Matthew Chambers.
Carrie Pipperidge: Sarah Tynan/Claire Boulter.
Julie Jordan: Katherine Manley/Gillene Herbert.
Mrs Mullin: Candida Benson.
Billy Bigelow: Michael Todd Simpson/Eric Greene.
1st Policeman: William Kenning.
David Bascombe: Riccardo Simonetti.
Nettie Fowler: Yvonne Howard/Elena Ferrari.
Enoch Snow: Joseph Shovelton/Philip Lee.
Jigger Craigin: Michael Rouse.
Arminy: Helen Évora.
2nd Policeman: Trevor Eliot Bowes.
Captain: Alexander Evans.
Heavenly Friend: William Kenning.
Starkeeper/Dr Seldon: Peter Bodenham/John Woodvine.
Heavenly Secretary: Philippa Buxton.
Louise: Beverley Grant/Alex Newton.
Enoch Snow Jr: Ashley Matthews.
Snow children: Nicola Abbott, Jonas Fossgard, Aidan Lopeman, Charlotte Pinder, Molly Reid, Ben Salter, Carys Tucker/Anna Breare, Max Kitson, Elsa McKenna, Lottie Mozley, Oliver Mozley, Coco Wheeler, Talllulah Worrall-Parker/Thomas Ashdown, Coco Cousin Brown, Ashleigh Edwards, Lauren Edwards, Rebecca Lawson Turner, Trinity Welch Price, Daniel Woolfenden.
Principal: Ian Caddick.
Dancers: Elisabetta d’Aloia, William Atkinson, Jake Bowerman, Nicholas Cass-Beggs, Matthew Chambers, Kajza Ekberg, Beverley Grant, Simon Jaymes, Ana Mrdjanov, Alex Newton, Carl Pattrick, Sonja Perreten, Paul Smethurst.
Director: Jo Davies.
Designer/Costume: Anthony Ward.
Lighting: Bruno Poet.
Conductor: John Rigby/James Holmes.
Musical Supervisor: Jonathan Gill.
Chorus Master: Timothy Burke.
Video: Andrej Goulding.
Choreographers: Kay Shepherd, Kim Brandstrup.
Dance Captain: Elisabetta d’Aloia.
Voice coach: Emma Woodvine.
Dialect coach: Judith Windsor.
Fight director: Alison de Burgh.
Associate lighting: Warren Letton.
Assistant choreographers: David Hulston, Elisabetta d’Aloia.