COLUMBIA -- By the title, you might think Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical "Carousel" is a lighthearted romance set at the fairgrounds.
You would be wrong. The 1945 show does center on a love affair that begins at a carnival, but it deals with serious issues such as domestic violence, class differences and the costs of being different in a small, conservative town.
As directed by Scott Viets, Sierra Repertory Theatre's production at the Fallon House Theatre is deeply moving, with powerful acting that made the audience at Thursday night's performance cry and gasp.
It also features glorious singing of the show's time-tested score.
Set in the late 19th century in a coastal village in Maine, "Carousel" follows the tragic relationship between innocent factory worker Julie Jordan and ne'er-do-well carnival barker Billy Bigelow. The 1956 movie version starred Shirley Jones and Gordon McRae.
Samantha Bruce, a stunning beauty, seems saintly as Julie, who remains devoted to Billy no matter how badly he treats her. It's hard to watch Julie make excuses for Billy beating her, but Bruce somehow makes her actions seem noble.
Marc Ginsburg, who plays Billy, is charming and handsome, making it believable that Julie would fall for him. You feel sorry for him despite his atrocious behavior because it seems he doesn't know how to act any better. His duet with Bruce on "If I Loved You" will make anyone's heart melt.
It's impossible to have dry eyes when they and the rest of the cast sing the show's most famous number, "You'll Never Walk Alone."
There are lighter moments, too, driven by the delightful Jessica Reiner-Harris as Julie's best friend, Carrie Pipperidge. When things get too heavy, she's there to make everyone laugh with silly antics. She gets help with comedy from Yaniv Zarif, who plays her humorously uptight fiancé, Mr. Snow.
The ensemble showcases impressive dancing skills and acrobatic talents in "June is Bustin' Out All Over" (the show is choreographed by Lia Metz).
Kaitlyn Brennan contributes an emotion-filled solo dance with ballet moves near the end of the show. I won't provide the name of her character here, so as not to spoil the story for those who may not have seen the show.
Heather Orth is patient and understanding as Julie's cousin Nettie, who provides loving financial and emotional support to Julie and Billy. Daniel S. Hines, who plays career criminal Jigger, turns "Blow High, Blow Low" into one of the highlights of the show with his brusque singing and athletic dancing.
The show begins on a powerful note, transitioning from Julie and Carrie's dreary factory workplace into the colorful world of the carnival, which comes with a belly dancer, a strongman and a carousel. The production goes on to feature sets of the blue-green ocean and quaint shops all wonderfully designed by Noble Dinse, with sound effects of waves and seagulls adding to the ambience.
Sierra Rep, the only professional theater company in the area, almost always does good work, but this production tops even its high standards. Make sure you take a ride on this "Carousel" before the show closes.
Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan Renner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2313.
WHERE: Fallon House Theatre, Columbia State Historic Park, off Parrotts Ferry Road
WHEN: Through Aug. 19; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays and Wednesdays and 7 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays
RUNNING TIME: 2 hours 40 minutes, including intermission
TICKETS: $26-$32, with discounts for children, students and seniors
INFORMATION: (209) 532-3120 or www.sierrarep.org
**** Excellent *** Good ** Fair * Poor