Director Lonny Price’s new production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic musical is billed as ‘semi-staged’. But with a massive stage that rotates, impressive projections to set the scene and a huge cast – you’d be very fussy to feel short changed. This is a big-scale show, befitting such an iconic piece, with star names and an orchestra that do justice to the legendary score.
The much-loved Alfie Boe takes the lead of wastrel Billy Bigelow. Star soprano Katherine Jenkins joins him as the devoted Julie Jordan. Their doomed love affair sounds so good that any deficiencies in their acting skills are easily forgiven. Jenkins is a little wooden and Boe seems to regard running around as shorthand for frustration. But it’s a tough job making characters fit for a parable really breathe.
Smaller roles compensate. The show boasts a strong villain in Derek Hagen’s Jigger Craigin – his work with the chorus on Blow High, Blow Low is a real highlight, full of convincing machismo, adding tension that ripples out through the whole piece. And there’s a super Mr and Mrs Snow, in Gavin Spokes and Alex Young, who are full of sweet comic touches.
The operatic voices here, bolstered by the excellent ENO chorus make an ambitious statement about taking the sublime score seriously. But the production has a reverence that’s questionable when it comes to the dated sexism of the piece. Julie’s final exoneration of Billy’s domestic abuse is too tough a line to stomach. Changing it wouldn’t be a matter of political correctness – it was never the suggestion that hitting your wife is OK. The finale is for resolution and keeping the line doesn’t work anymore. A small quibble about an excellent show… but it leaves a nasty taste that could be avoided.
Until 13 May 2017