Listen, this is how great the revival of “Carousel” is at the Imperial Theater: Amy Adams and her husband Darren LeGallo flew in from L.A. just to support Jessie Mueller in her starring role opposite the magnificent Joshua Henry and Renee Fleming. Uma Thurman, who just finished a Broadway run, was front and center. Sutton Foster came in a side entrance. Marsha Mason was there, as was the great Phylicia Rashad. During intermission, you could hear people saying, “Oh my god—”
Mueller, Henry and Fleming are the three main stars, but of course there are six other outstanding actors (including Margaret Colin, Alexander Gemignani, Lindsay Mendez), there’s Rodgers and Hammerstein, director Jack O’Brien, choreographer Justin Peck, and on and on who make this production a sublime hit. Some people say this is the greatest of the R&H shows, maybe the best musical of all time. And that’s because the other stars are the songs– “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” “If I Loved You”– at the top of the list.
No one who sees this show will ever forget one thing, though– Joshua Henry as carnival barker Billy Bigelow, glistening on stage, delivering a vocal and dramatic performance that will win him Best Actor in a Musical at this year’s Tonys and will be talked about forever. Like Norm Lewis and Brian Stokes Mitchell, Henry is at the pinnacle of Broadway. But this is his breakthrough, and it’s just jaw dropping good. You want to him hear him sing anything, all day long.
Henry’s is not the only voice that soars in this “Carousel.” Mueller matches him and then some on her own and singing with Henry or with Fleming. Renee Fleming, everyone! The great opera star is on Broadway! And you realize that “Carousel” is as much an opera as it is a musical, it’s Rodgers and Hammerstein’s American opera that followed “Oklahoma!” in 1945. What would else could they do to follow up “Oklahoma”?
“Carousel” is not easy. The main character, Billy Benjamin, is a bad, conflicted guy who falls for a shy girl in Maine. They fall in love instantly, and marry. But he hits her. And what got sort of glossed over in 1945 has a different meaning in 2018. Yet the consequences of Billy’s descent have not changed. His fate is sealed, and “Carousel” is a tragedy.
Still, there’s nothing better than these fine singers. We’re so used to the “American Idol” way of belting out bad songs to a crescendo and sustained ugly note– and a standing ovation– that you’re almost taken aback hearing gorgeous, trained voices handing sublimely written music. For that– for the mesmerizing unfolding carousel canopy at the beginning of Act 1– this show is a memorable winner.
After the show: most Broadway openings are followed by parties in the neighborhood–Sardi’s, Gotham Hall, maybe even up at Tavern on the Green. Buses are usually provided for the guests if there’s a distance involved. Last night’s party sent the several hundred theater goers– after 2 1/2 hours of a show– from West 45th St. to the foot of Manhattan, 25 Broadway at a new Cipriani location five miles away. Yes, five miles, no buses provided. It was quite funny watching everyone figuring out how to get there.
But the former Cunard building was dressed up handsomely, and the effort of traveling was worth it. What a pleasure to hang with Amy Adams and Darren LeGallo, who we don’t get to see on the East Coast very often. When Amy appeared on stage a few years at Shakespeare in the Park, she told me she made a lifetime friend of Jessie Mueller. “She’s the real thing,” Amy said, and it’s pretty clear both sides adore each other. I also got to meet Mueller’s family including her lovely parents and her actress-singer sister Abby. PS LeGallo says he’s “thisclose” to going into pre-production on his movie “The Pull.” With themes not so different than “A Quiet Place” the time seems to be right!