Carousel is a musical that I know mostly from the 1956 film starring Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones rather than the earlier stage musical by Rodgers & Hammerstein, so I was not sure as what to expect on stage tonight from Opera North. Would it be an opera or a stage show, and how would they perform one of my favourite songs ever – “You’ll Never Walk Alone”? The answer is actually a fusion of both.
The first thing you notice about this production of Carousel is the quality of the production itself. The sets and costumes are of a very high standard with real attention to detail. The moment when the carousel comes alive with fairground horse rides is impressive. There are many other impressive sets throughout the show and every one is so slickly changed that it all just seems to flow with the music.
Back to the music itself. This is definitely an operatic based performance of the production, and that is not meant in any way to be a negative comment. Opera North is an opera company and has some very impressive talent on stage here. There is however a slightly different vocal approach at times from opera to stage show performance. This is the very precise world of classically trained voices, and they are very very good.
There is a nice contrast between mill-girl Julie Jordan(later Mrs Bigelow) played by Gillene Butterfield and Billy Bigelow played by Keith Higham. Gillene has a more obvious operatic style that does play well against the more stage show approach of Keith. At times though, there is not much on stage emotion to show how madly in love Julie is with Billy. Julie’s easy acceptance of the domestic violence of Billy once they are married may also be difficult for modern audiences to easily accept.
There is also the secondary plot here of the lives of Carrie Pipperidge (soon to be Mrs Snow) played by Aoife O’Sullivan and Enoch Snow played by Joseph Shovelton. As often seems to be the case, the secondary characters here seem to be far more complete than the principal ones, and often get the better songs and lines. Aoife gets to put some great vocals into a nice character performance role here.
Whaler and all round bad guy Jigger Craigin is a really good part for Stuart Neal to play here and gives some comedy at times too.
The song of the show though as always is You’ll Never Walk Alone and is performed by Julie (Gillene Butterfield) and Nettie Fowler (Yvonne Howard). Yvonne has put in some good character performances here and some great vocals already, and the two of them do a very nice job on this classic. There seems to be an ongoing debate here of which lyric is the right one – is it as sung tonight –“Keep Your Chin Up High” or “Hold Your Head Up High”? Earlier productions it seems use the first one, and many agree that this is the more vocally difficult to sing. The film and the hit song by Gerry & The Pacemakers from the 1960s use the second option. I have to admit a preference for “Hold Your Head Up High”, but in the context of its use on stage, “Keep Your Chin Up High” is probably a more accurate usage. The combined cast doing this song was outstanding too.
There are many other very impressive elements to this show. The music is performed wonderfully, and the choreography is outstanding. There is a wonderful ballet sequence in the second half performed tonight by Beverley Grant playing the 15 year old Louise Bigelow that for me just stole the show.
Lots of other nice touches here too, such as Anthony Warren playing “Heavenly Friend” and stretching his wings out against the full length of the stage.
This is the first time that I have seen an Opera North production, and hopefully they will return to Edinburgh soon. Just a high quality production with a talented cast.
If you would like to find out more about Opera North, and this production of Carousel, visit their website at
Review by Tom King