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Boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy beats girl . . . that's the premise of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's second collaboration: the story of carousel barker Billy Bigelow, a doomed young drifter who vents his self-loathing by smacking his wife around. The team's most operatic musical, featuring Rodgers's most sweeping score, is also their darkest drama, largely told through what remains unsaid: Hammerstein's libretto brilliantly portrays people unable to express their feelings directly. Productions over the years have smothered the subtext of this 1945 classic, emphasizing its melodic richness and fantastical finale (a guardian angel gives Billy a chance to return to earth and redeem himself). English director Nicholas Hytner (Miss Saigon) sought to illuminate the work's darker implications when he revived it for the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain; his version, which played at New York's Lincoln Center last year, reminds us of the emotional and economic conditions that bring Billy and Julie together. (She endures his abuse, Hytner suggests, because it's better than her other options as a young 19th-century working-class woman.) Now Hytner has staged a touring version, which opened February 9 at the Houston Music Hall; reviewers there gave high marks to leading actors Patrick Wilson and Sarah Uriarte and to Chicago actor Kate Buddeke, who reprises her Lincoln Center role as the brassy carnival owner who employs Billy for services not entirely related to merry-go-rounds. One hopes this production, which features sets by Bob Crowley and choreography by the late Sir Kenneth MacMillan, will strike the elusive balance between psychological realism and poetic lyricism Carousel is capable of but has seldom achieved. Rosemont Theatre, 5400 N. River Rd., Rosemont, 902-1500. Opens Wednesday, February 21, 8 PM. Through February 25: Thursday-Friday, 8 PM; Saturday, 2 and 8 PM; Sunday, 2 and 7 PM. $20-$50. --Albert Williams

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Joan Marcus.

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