Theater Review: "Carousel"

Ben Miles
MUSICAL THEATRE WEST'S production of "Carousel" at the Carpenter Center.

In 1999 it was named the best musical of the 20th century by Time magazine. It was a collaborative creation by the legendary team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. And, no, it isn’t “Oklahoma!” – that was the two men’s first project.

“Carousel” is the acclaimed second collaboration of Rodgers (music) and Hammerstein (book and lyrics), and though it didn’t receive nearly the same box office bounty as “Oklahoma!” “Carousel” is considered by many to be the best work in the Rodgers and Hammerstein catalog, including by Richard Rodgers himself. 

Now this dark, adult-themed musical is at full mount and gallop in the Musical Theatre West production of “Carousel.” With extraordinary production values – costumes by Karen St. Pierre, wig design by Anthony Gagliardi, sound work by Audio Production Geeks LLC, lighting by Paul Black and a gloriously malleable scenic design (which goes un-credited) – this “Carousel,” adapted as a musical in 1945 and transplanted from Budapest to the coastline of Maine, is a puzzler.

The protagonist is an unlikeable and cruel carnival barker named Billy Bigelow; he somehow is the object of desire among the many women he encounters (Doug Carpenter is a stalwart actor here with a beautiful tenor vocal range, that’s well demonstrated in the song “The Highest Judge of All”).

Physically abusive and wholly self-centered, the only thing Billy seems to have in his favor is good looks and an enchanting singing ability. Nevertheless, one of the young women, Julie Jordan who works in the local mill falls hard for the braggadocio of Billy. Soon Julie finds herself in a family way and Billy, though pleasantly infatuated with the possibility of fatherhood, ends up on the wrong and deadly side of the law.

With subplots, multiple characters, nearly two dozen song and dance numbers (with crisp choreography by Daniel Smith and musical direction of the live 28 piece orchestra by Dennis Castellano), and a huge, muscular cast of characters – including Amanda Hootman as Carrie, Justin Cowden as Enoch Snow, Sarah Uriarte Berry as Nettie, Erica Hanrahan-Ball as Mrs. Mullin and Jeff Skowron as the scene-stealing Jigger – one wonders why “Carousel” is so lauded.

After all, the characters are uninspiring, the music is largely forgettable and the moral of the story is ambiguous and ridiculously otherworldly. It’s too bad that Director Joe Langworth’s meticulous staging of this amoral potboiler amounts to exertion in pursuit of inglorious characters enmeshed in a troubled plot.

“Carousel” continues through April 9. The production is located at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 E Atherton, and Long Beach. Show times are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees are on Saturdays at 2 p.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m. For reservations, call (562) 856-1999, ext. 4. For online ticketing and further information, visit



What a poor ending to the review. Saying that the music is forgettable shows complete lack of knowledge of Musical Theatre. These are some of the most used songs ever, and have been covered by more pop stars than you can count. Poor taste...

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