The new production of Carousel at the London Coliseum is described as semi-staged. But don’t let that concern you. Aside from lacking the rather showy elements of West End scenery, this is a full-blown piece of theatre with choreography, costume and great use of a huge revolve which comprises the greater part of the set.
Added to this comes the element of scale. The huge stage is filled by a huge cast and the pit by a huge orchestra – the likes of which are never scene in conventional musical theatre. The brilliant Carousel Waltz has never sounded better. And the whole overture is used to tell the story in reverse, culminating in a brilliant evocation of a carousel with the cast riding on lit-up letters spelling-out the name Carousel in the form of horses as the revolve spins them round. I was hooked immediately.
Star casting is at least some of the attraction and both Alfie Boe and Katherine Jenkins deliver the goods. Fortunately Alfie’s suspect wig which you may have seen in photos of earlier reviews has been ditched. He captures the essence of Billy Bigelow showing him to be quick tempered, moody, but also fraught with genuine concern for his family. Katherine Jenkins is reaching into new territory with this show and brings an innocence and warmth to the part of Julie Jordan and we can easily see why she falls for the unsuitable and unstable Billy. Her singing voice is, of course, well known, but for me sits uneasily with the character she’s playing. It’s big, confident and grown-up and perhaps lacks that sense of innocence she captures in the dialogue scenes.
Brenda Edwards is immediately commanding as Nettie Fowler and she makes the most of getting the best tunes – June is Bustin’ Out All Over and the iconic You’ll Never Walk Alone. Receiving star billing as the star keeper, despite not having to start work until about 9.30pm, is Nicholas Lyndhurst. And there was a palpable feeling of warmth and love for him from the audience when he appeared. I guess for many of a certain age he’ll always be young Rodney.
There is a downside, though, to the scale of the production. Grand though the music and staging are, I don’t think the production succeeds entirely in capturing the necessary intimacy needed for Billy’s death to really pull at the heart strings. I can’t fault the performances so can only think the cavernous space of the Coliseum just doesn’t suit the moment.
One final comment for anyone thinking of booking – the view from the cheaper seats in the top balcony is very good. Alas, the same cannot be said for the seats themselves which take the form of a sort of bus-stop style bench with armrests. You’ll really find yourself just perching on the tiny seat cushion, which is fine if you’re waiting 10 minutes for a bus but not at all comfortable an hour and a quarter into Act One!