by Critics On The Aisle™: Elizabeth Lafontaine with Don Church & Tony Schillaci
A far cry from the kitschy big tops of America’s hey day, the Grand Imperial Cirque de Paris dazzles the audience in the Goodspeed Opera House’s current production of Carnival! A revival of the popular 1961 musical, the show effortlessly blends a classic story of survival and love with the grit of the Moulin Rouge era.
The attention to detail that is paid by the theatre did not go unnoticed: the ushers in costume and the stage are realistic, yet whimsically decorated to represent the Parisian circus. Once the show began, the audience traveled right along with the circus cars, able to catch a glimpse into the precious but also tough lives behind the main stage.
The original book by three-time Tony-winner Michael Stewart, based on material by Helen Deutsch, is renewed by Francine Pascal in a classic sense, yet it still feels relevant and refreshing as it is performed.
The cast of the show is young and vibrant; delivering a performance that was thrilling, compassionate, and shocking all in a few short hours. And who can neglect to cheer for Lauren Worsham as Lili? She carried the bulk of the show – her vivacious voice and naiveté made her instantly likeable and sincere. It was very easy to feel a connection to her journey, as the actress seamlessly became the character. Her performance was ravishing, one of the highlights of the entire show.
Another showstopper was Mike McGowan as Marco the Magnificent. Marco’s greasy and egotistical demeanor came to life in his portrayal. He was the smarmy man you love to hate, but he was still mesmerizing to all of the audience, not just the “little mouse” – his pet name for Lili. McGowan had a strong command of character, as gazes were glued to his every swift movement on stage as the double-dealing snake of a magician.
Another standout was Adam Monley not as Paul, but as Carrot Top, Horrible Henry, Rocco, and Margarite. Although the role of the puppet quartet in the piece could have been trite, his delivery was endearing and a true high point of enjoyment. Who didn’t want to run up on stage and embrace Henry? And his voice behind the vixen Margarite was outrageous and hilarious.
The interaction of the puppets with Lili was sincere, creating a fantastical storyline within the realm of the entire show with endearing puppet design and deft staging by Robert Smythe.
The ensemble was extremely talented in vocals, choreography, and acrobatics. The cast’s exhilarating numbers would pleasantly surprise whoever would have thought that one couldn’t leap and kick in unison on such a tiny stage.
Choreographer Peggy Hickey and Aerial Choreographer Joshua Dean have created whirling dazzling ensemble numbers, complete with Dean’s expertise on the trapeze.
John Lasiter’s lighting, David P. Gordon’s set, Fabio Toblini’s costumes and Jay Hilton’s sound added to the seedy illusion of the down-and-out carnival. The scenes would transition from spectacular to dark and gloomy in seconds in tandem with the action of the show. Highlights in all three of these fields can be seen during the “Cirque de Paris Ballet” and “Beautiful Candy” numbers, as both are whimsical but not overdone.
Some of the comedic performances felt forced, especially during the “Humming (Tra La)” number, but for the most part the show had great fluidity and ease of performance and effect. The direction by Darko Tresnjak of some of the main cast members at times showed a lack of an emotional connection to each other and their roles.
The second act of the show succeeded far better than the first, but overall the whole show was an escape to a carnival of entertainment. The show is a perfect blend of emotional highs and lows, and is a must see for lovers of classic musicals. Love really does make this rendition of Carnival! go ‘round, enchanting the audience with its wit, passion, and romance.
“Carnival!” is playing through September 18. For tickets call 860-873-8668 or www.goodspeed.org.
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