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Laura Osnes and Steven Pasquale

Laura Osnes and Steven Pasquale

Todd Rosenberg

When: Tuesdays, Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through April 23 2015
Price: $29-$199
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's 1945 musical, originally set in 1870s New England, is the tale of the troubled romance between ne'er-do-well carnival barker Billy Bigelow and strong-willed mill worker Julie Jordan—a love that, though ill-fated, is so powerful it transcends death. Lyric Opera's somber production offers an imaginative if not wholly successful new take on this classic work. Director-choreographer Rob Ashford has reset the action to the 1930s, allowing him to explore the story's sexual undercurrents more directly than usual. The scenic design by Italian artist Paolo Ventura (making his theatrical debut) evokes a sense of loneliness and of the characters' connection to their environment I associate with the Depression-era paintings of Edward Hopper. Ashford has also expanded the use of nature imagery already present in the libretto (a Hammerstein hallmark). Likewise, he's intensified the role of ballet in the show, approaching a Wagnerian ideal of Gesamtkunstwerk, a total theater experience. Laura Osnes is a superb Julie—at once tough and fragile, independent and vulnerable. Broadway veteran Charlotte d'Amboise shines as Billy's sometime lover and employer Mrs. Mullin—a traditionally secondary role that Ashford has beefed up by using d'Amboise's skills as a dancer as well as actress. Also excellent is former Joffrey and American Ballet Theatre dancer Abigail Simon as Billy and Julie's troubled teenage daughter, Louise. And it is wonderful to hear Rodgers's rich score delivered by an opera-company chorus and orchestra under David Chase's baton. The weak link, unfortunately, is Steven Pasquale's Billy. Seeking a more naturalistic approach to the traditionally flamboyant character, Pasquale (despite his fine singing) ends up failing to connect with either his leading ladies or the audience. This Bigelow needs more big to complement the low. —Albert Williams

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