Reviewed by Will Stackman
When the Reagle Players began in 1969, for their first professional show on the stage of the new Robinson Theatre at Waltham High, director Robert J. Eagle, then head of the school's drama program, choose a Rodgers and Hammerstein favorite, "Carousel." The centerpiece of their 37th season, which began with a revival of Gershwin's "Crazy for You" starring Kirby and Beverly Ward plus original costumes and sets which Reagle owns, is again "Carousel," this time starring Shirley Jones. Ms. Jones of course played Julie in the film version, but appears for her first time onstage in this show to play Aunt Nettie. The cast, both professional and local is obviously buoyed by her presence, and the additional attendance. But audiences are also getting first-rate performances from "Phantom of the Opera" veteran Sarah Pfisterer as Julie Jordan, opposite light opera baritone Nat Chandler (seen on Broadway in the title role of "The Scarlet Pimpernel") as Billy Bigelow.
The supporting cast is also impressive. Boston area veteran Cheryl McMahon, who got an IRNE last year for her roles at Reagle in "Grease" and "Music Man", is a creditable threat as carousel owner Mrs. Mullin in pursuit of handsome Billy. Kristen Watson, B.U. opera grad and cross-country regional theatre performer, is a standout as Julie's friend Carrie. Her opposite number is local singer Nathan Troup, another B.U. grad. The pair handle the light romantic side of the show successfully with considerable charm. Versatile Victor Warren makes sinister and plausible Jigger. And 27 year Reagle veteran, Harold Walker, who's currently on the Waltham School Committee, is as big a crowd favorite as the Starkeeper and Dr. Sheldon at the commencement as he was last year as Mayor Shin opposite McMahon.
Musically, the ensemble of thirty-two choristers --not counting the smaller Snow kids--under music director Karen Gahagan's firm hand is crisp and powerful. Add a corps de ballet of sixteen under Gemeze De Lappe--working on her fifth Reagle production -- and the stage is overflowing. Mme. De Lappe, who appeared in the original "Oklahoma" and "Carousel" was an associate of Agnes De Mille. She's recreated dances for many Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals in her long professional career. She also introduced Trude Ruttman , to whom this "Carousel" and the upcoming "The Sound of Music" are dedicated, to director Bob Eagle. Ms. Ruttman was a premiere dance arranger for Rodgers and Hammerstein and also part of "Carousel"s original creative team. When she retired to neighboring Belmont, she became a trusted advisor to Walthm's Reagle. The recreation of the De Mille dances is one of the highlights of this production, with petite Broadway dancer Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck as Louise. Her partner in the second act ballet is BosCon dance major Victor Wisehart. De Lappe, who's also Dance Professor Emerita at Smith, has done a stunning job molding their duet--not to mention her integration of the eight kids, the youngest of whom is four, into the ballet. The corps was assembled from local dance company regulars with three Broadway dancers as the major male dancers. The quality of local ballet training speaks for itself.
While the costumes were hired designs with a real bandbox look by David Loveless of Costume World, the set was done locally by scene painter Matt Rudman and Richard Schreiber who aimed for the show's original look, complete with a functioning carousel in the prologue "Carousel Waltz". This puts another asset in Reagle's warehouse.Their upgraded sound system is a real boon, and allows conductor Jeffrey P. Leonard to get a big sound out of his full orchestra--harp included--without overwhelming the singing or drowning out Ms. Jones well-aged soprano. Mikes could be turned way down, of course, when Nat Chandler got to the end of Billy's "Soliloquy." While the lighting was probably quite like that available for the original production, Robinson Theatre still deserves an upgrade in this area, in terms of positions and instrumentation. Some music theatre aficionados may prefer the darker modern British interpretation of this show, but this faithful recreation of the original lets Hammerstein's optimism shine through, plus showing younger audience members what all the fuss was about fifty years ago.
Reagle will end this summer season by presenting John Davidson as Capt. Von Trapp in R&H's "The Sound of Music." Fans of such music theatre classics should also be enjoying a bright theatre-in-the-round version of "Cinderella" at the North Shore Music Theatre. Unfortunately, after a sparkling opening night, a midnight fire in the understage machinery caused up to $3 million dollars damage to the facility. They've promised to bring "Cinderella" back for next summer, are hoping to open a premiere of "Abyssinia" around Labor Day at an alternate location, and mount "The Full Monty" in their refurbished theater in October. The theatre community around greater Boston is rooting for North Shore's speedy come-back.