Light Opera Works is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary in grand style by teaming up with the Actors Gymnasium to present an extravagant production of the rarely seen gem of a musical, “Carnival.” Despite the heroine and puppets in the show having been originally inspired by the hugely popular 1950s Chicago-based “Kukla, Fran & Ollie” television series, the work has not had an area professional staging since the road show of the original musical stopped here in the early 1960s. Loosely adapted from the Leslie Caron film “Lili,” the show is set in a seedy French carnival full of bitter and frustrated characters who are transformed by the innocence of a young orphan who believes that a magician’s tricks and promises are real and whose only “friends” are puppets that she confides in and who even manage to “talk” her out of suicide at one point. The two worlds—things as they are and things as the young girl perceives them—are brilliantly juxtaposed by the Bob Merrill score, given the extravagance of a full orchestra under the reliable baton of Lawrence Rapchak. The colorful carnival acts, magic tricks and puppetry are elaborately staged and supervised by director Michael Ehrman, and though the entire cast can sing and act with style, newcomer Rekha Rangarajan steals the show with her convincingly naïve and vocally-nuanced Lili, who gets to sing the hit, “Love Makes the World Go Round.” (Dennis Polkow)
“Carnival” plays at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson, Evanston, (847)869-6300, through June 12.