January 19, 2020

“Carnival” at Goodspeed Offers a Magical Ride

Lili (Lauren Worsham) and the ensemble in "Yes, My Heart."

The “Carnival” is back in town.  No, not the typical country fair carnival.  “Carnival,” the 1961 musical by famed “Funny Girl” composer Bob Merrill, is onstage entertaining audiences night after night at the Goodspeed Opera House.  The original Broadway production starred Anna Maria Alberghetti and Jerry Orbach.

Based on the 1953 Leslie Caron movie “Lili”, “Carnival” tells the story of a young French orphan, who goes off to the circus and finds herself caught in a love triangle.

During the pre-show, the open set is darkly lit, but provides an old world charm.  There is a backdrop of a pier with a cloudy sky (by the show’s end, this cloudy sky will turn into a golden sunset).  A brick wall frames the backdrop, along with metal beams that will later hold up the circus tent.  Lights are strung throughout the stage and into the balcony areas of the audience.  This production is set in the aftermath and shadow of World War II.

“Carnival” is entertaining from the moment the metaphorical curtain goes up — unfortunately, there is no traditional curtain.  This version has also cut the overture. 

“Direct from Vienna”, sung by the entire cast (with the exception of Lili), introduces the audience to the circus and its  different types of performers.  The tune is memorable.

Lauren Worsham portrays Lili, who at first is giggly and naïve, but eventually grows up and finds out the realities of true love.  She finds herself in a world above her head: the grand Cirque de Paris.  Lili tries very hard to assimilate herself into the circus world, but she fails.  The other circus performers see her as a nuisance.

Lili meets Paul's puppets.

Worsham’s sweet soprano is delightful, especially in the songs, “Mira,” (the name of the town where Lili grew up, first sung with happiness and its reprise with nostalgic sadness) and, “Yes, My Heart,” (in which she learns she received a job at the circus. A wonderful touch is when Lili is thrust up on a trapeze by one of the circus performers.)  The most memorable song of Lili’s is, “Love Makes the World Go ‘Round,” which she sings to comfort one of Paul’s puppets.  Lili is delightful during the puppet show (“Yum Ticky Ticky Tum Tum”, “Beautiful Candy”, “And We’re Rich”).

Lili (Lauren Worsham) teaches Paul (Adam Monley) that "Love Makes the World Go Round" in Carnival! at Goodspeed.

Adam Monley portrays Paul, the troubled puppeteer. He is a former World War II veteran and a dancer, who had to stop due to his leg injury.  Paul took up a job at the circus as a puppeteer.  His act is often accompanied by his optimistic and dreamer friend, Jacquot (played by Nathan Klau, whose song, “Cirque de Paris,” showed how much the character really is a dreamer).

Paul uses his act to attract Lili to him.  He hides behind the curtain of the puppet show and does not want to reveal his true personality.  Monley is very talented, especially when voicing each of the different puppets (especially Carrot Top, the  red-headed clown and Henry, a walrus who doesn’t want to be called a “seal.”).

Monley’s strong tenor voice suits the role, especially in the songs, “I’ve Got to Find a Reason,” (he doesn’t want to stay in the circus anymore) and, “Her Face.” 

There is another song titled, “Everybody likes You,”, in which Paul sings about how no one likes him and everyone loves the puppets. This was also very well done because Paul makes the puppet “comfort him.”

Paul’s monologue song in Act II, “Her Face, shows longing and Monley uses his hands to outline Lili’s face in the air.  Paul’s love for Lili was tangible, but he isn’t sure how to show it.  Lili knew more about Paul from his puppets than Paul himself.

One wishes that Paul and Lili would have more stage time together, but Paul has a dual personality as himself and the puppets. At the end of the show, Paul shows his kindness to Lili and tells her that his sense of humor and personality he shows with the puppets is his true self (and the person he wants to be).

Like a fairytale, they walk off into the sunset together.

Marco the Magnificent iis portrayed by David Engel. Marco is an arrogant, womanizing magician who tries to lure Lili to him (and his act). Paul sees Marco’s insincere ways. Marco is accompanied by his “incomparable” assistant, Rosalie, an aging, but beautiful diva who will marry someone in “Zurick”, Switzerland (played by Michelle Blakely, whose sung “Humming”, gives the audience a huge laugh).

Lili (on trapeze) and ensemble in "Beautiful Candy."

The small, but talented ensemble of circus performers and trapeze artists makes the show fun to watch, especially during the real “carnival” (a show within a show). They provide the backbone of the show. Real life acrobats were suspended above the stage, entertaining the audience. Jacqot’s number “Cirque de Paris Ballet” included many Moulin Rouge-esque dances from the cast.

“Carnival” is a gem of a musical that should be performed more often.  Like a real “carnival”, this show is not in town forever, so catch it quick … it before it closes! 

Editor’s Note:  All photos by Diane Sobolewski.  “Carnival” will be performed nightly at Goodspeed Opera House through Sept. 18.  For tickets and information, call 860-873-8668 or visit www.goodspeed.org.