A Haunting Spin on the Carousel: Cast Album Review
Carousel has always been one of my favorite musicals, unyielding and passionate in its telling of two imperfect people entwined in an ill-fated relationship. Yes, it isn’t the easiest pill to swallow, but it was daring musical for its time and continues to be in a world where domestic abuse and misguided codependency still flourish. Part of the reason why this musical continues to resonate is the glorious Rodgers and Hammerstein score.
This year we have been treated to a Broadway revival of Carousel, and whether or not you find its premise palatable or are in agreement with some of the liberties this production takes with content (excising portions of the score and reinstating another song that is usually cut), the new cast recording by Concord Records is a haunting spin through the best of what this revival has to offer. Since acquiring the album, I must admit that I have listened to it a few-dozen times and I am transported by its ethereal voices singing beloved music that is an engrained part of my musical theatre psyche.
Surprisingly, the album is only 14 tracks in length, but many of the tracks are extensive with the eight-minute “Carousel Waltz,” the nine-minute “If I Loved You” sequence and the ten-minute “Ballet” coming through with abundance in quantity and quality. Though I wish we had songs like “Stonecutter Cut It On Stone” here, it is a novelty to have a new recording of the seldom-utilized “The Highest Judge of All” sung here with spirit and gusto by the always terrific Joshua Henry. You will also want to own this album for his golden-toned “Soliloquy”, a masterful interpretation of one of the musical’s most character driven songs.
Of course, the trio of leading ladies: Jessie Mueller, Lindsay Mendez, and Renee Fleming are always vocally exquisite in everything they do. It should be no surprise that they shine on this album. Mendez sings a spritely “Mister Snow” (was there ever a better song written for a featured role?), infusing it with her salty New England accent. Fleming provides a gravitas to “You’ll Never Walk Alone” that propels it to the heavens and back with hymn-like grandeur. Mueller digs emotionally deep in songs like “If I Loved You” and “What’s the Use of Wond’rin?”, exploring an achingly primal place in the character of Julie Jordan that underlines both her determination and her fragility. Mueller knows how to stroke and finesse a song and, in doing so here, she mines the many possibilities to tell this character’s story of survival and strength.