Imagine, a “Carousel” with no carousel. From the opening “Carousel Waltz” performed by a tiny, piano-led chamber orchestra with a single toy pony strung up over the proceedings for the entire evening like a piñata waiting to burst, you could tell that Charles Newell’s minimalist take on the work that many consider Rodgers and Hammerstein’s masterpiece was going to take a dark spin all of its own. No worldly Billy Bigelow (Nicholas Belton) here: a very boyish Billy makes his entrance in dark colors, sporting a “Mack the Knife” derby and distractingly approximating something between a Cockney and slang Bostonian accent (think “Marky” Mark Wahlberg before the diction lessons, or those old “Saturday Night Live” skits when the Kennedys would stand around with soup bowls saying, “Gawd chawda”). Once the singing starts, the goal is apparently to keep tempos slow and stodgy but ironically to get off of vowels as quickly as possible and allow consonants to quickly stop melodies cold, so the “if” of “If I Loved You” becomes something akin to a quiet dog bark with the emphasis on the air-stopping “f” sound instead of the short “i” sound that a singer uses to sustain pitch and beautiful sound. In other words, Court Theatre might as well as have been doing Molnar’s darker “Lilliom,” the basis for “Carousel” with background muzak, and saved the licensing fees to the R & H organization. Not that there aren’t some nice moments: Belton is genuinely moving in the “Soliloquy,” even if there is little singing, just some tune-carrying now and then, and makes his death scene effective, even if the interpretative decision to change the death from an accident to a suicide makes the work’s life-affirming finale dramaturgically absurd. And thankfully, Ernestine Jackson is allowed to sing the shit out of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” once she is allowed to sustain her vowels, but in a production where the secondary and usually boring couple Mr. and Mrs. Snow generate more sparks than the romantic leads, stop the show, I want to get off. (Dennis Polkow)
At the Courth Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis, (773)753-4472. This production is now closed.