Lyric’s Carousel is beautiful and heart melting

Carousel at Lyric Opera of Chicago is a fine way to introduce tweens and teens to the classic Rodgers& Hammerstein Broadway musical, a love story that will leave the heart beating a little harder by the show’s end.

The Lyric’s production is magical, filled with supremely talented people. But be warned, it touches on hot-button topics of sex, domestic violence, suicide and death. The three-hour run time, with short intermission, may also challenge some kids.

Your kids will especially love the fantastic sets that change right in front of them, the soaring songs on stage and the music by the orchestra in the pit, and the dancing. Their feet will be tapping to the rousing renditions of “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” by Nettie (Denyce Graves) and the chorus and “A Real Nice Clambake.” The classic, “If I Loved You,” will echo in their heads long after the standing ovation and curtain drops.

The show starts with sweet millworker Julie Jordan (Laura Osnes) catching carousel barker Billy Bigelow’s attention near the carousel, which takes the center stage amid a colorful and fun circus atmosphere. When his boss and lover, Mrs. Mullin (Charlotte D’Ambroise), overreacts in a jealous snit, she fires him even though she knows the girls come to the carousel to see him. Jordan and Bigelow (played by the handsome and sexy Steven Pasquale) fall in love and quickly marry, only to have Bigelow’s inability to find another job make him angry enough to hit Jordan. Like many times in real life, Jordan refuses to leave him in the hopes that it won’t happen again.

The dialogue between Bigelow and Jordan seems forced and unrealistic from the start. For us, the hugely talented Jenn Gambatese, as Julie Jordan’s best friend Carrie Pipperidge, and the adorable awkwardness of her fisherman beau Enoch Snow (Matthew Hydzik), stole the show.

Where Jordan and Bigelow are unlikeable at first, Carrie and Enoch are a couple you can rally behind (and who end up with so many kids!). Especially touching, though, was the transformation that came over Bigelow once he realized he was going to be a dad. He loses his swagger and even becomes more likable. Had he not committed a crime and lived long enough to see his daughter born, you can imagine what an involved and fun a dad he was going to be.

Arrive early to check out gallery exhibit, “Creating Carousel,” on the lower level of the Civic Opera House featuring set design paintings, vintage carousel horses from Architectural Artifacts, and costume design drawings by Catherine Zuber. My tween especially loved the set model elements that she saw come to reality on stage.

The Lyric Opera always puts on a stunning show so nab tickets before Carousel ends May 3. It’s also a great date night or girls’ night out. Tickets start at $29 and are available at lyricopera.org/carousel or (312) 827-5600. And make plans now for next year’s Rodgers and Hammerstein production, The King and I.

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