The second act with heaven and then a return trip to earth in the “Carousel” book by Oscar Hammerstein II is as corny as ever, but what remains truly heavenly is the glorious Richard Rodgers music, with Hammerstein’s lyrics. Add the smart staging by Jack O’Brien, the lavish scenic design by Santo Loquasto, other production skills, splendid updated choreography by Justin Peck, a cast with great voices and you have the special aura of the current revival.
Jessie Mueller makes an appealing Julie Jordan, Joshua Henry is impressive as Billy Bigelow, and there are the necessary romantic sparks between them. Lindsay Mendez is a standout as Carrie, excellent actor John Douglas Thompson plays the Starkeeper, and to top it off in the casting department, there is the operatic voice of Renée Fleming, who acts the role of Nettie Fowler.
Consider some of the beautifully executed numbers: Mendez and Mueller singing “You’re a Queer One, Julie Jordan;” Mendez touchingly interpreting “Mister Snow;” Mueller and Henry with “If I loved You,” and Fleming, Mendez and the company spiritedly signing “June is Bustin’ Out All Over.” Henry, with thrilling power in his voice, makes the most of the opportunities to show off his vocal and acting talents. There is also the familiar gospel-like “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” given full treatment by Fleming, then again by Mueller, Fleming and the company in a resounding finale.
All that would be enough of an allure, but there is the standout dancing en masse, and especially by Brittany Pollack and Andrei Chagas as a dazzling duo.
The show offers an abundance of visual delights in addition to the score and the musical high points. There are enough of those elements to override the work’s corny trip to heaven and back. This “Carousel” emphasizes the dark side of the story, as well as its fun and uplifting sides. The result is strong appeal for those who have never seen “Carousel,” as well as for those who have and would like to make some comparisons. At the Imperial Theatre, 249 West 45th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed April 15, 2018.