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In Tandem’s ‘Carnival’ soars with great  balance in acting, singing, production

By JULIE McHALE - Post Theater Critic

May 4, 2017


      

The ensemble of Carnival performs the song “Beautiful Candy” in
In Tandem’s production of “Carnival.”
Tanya Dhein

AT A GLANCE

“Carnival”

The play runs through May 14 at the Tenth Street Theatre at 10th Street and Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee. Call 414-271-1371 or visit intandemtheatre.org for times and tickets.

MILWAUKEE — In Tandem went all out for this one, including turning their reception room into a veritable carnival display and reconfiguring their theater space into an in-the-round tent. Even the volunteers were in costume to add to the festive flavor.

“Carnival,” set in the 1920s, was inspired by the film “Lili,” featuring Leslie Caron (1953). It came out as a musical by Bob Merrill in 1961 and ran on Broadway for over 700 performances. Its signature tune, “Love Makes the World Go Round,” remains a popular song, the only one that lived beyond the show.

Behind the glitz and magic of a carnival are an array of characters and dramas that the audience doesn’t see. We see the gaiety, the colors and the amazing feats of the actors, but there are many unperceived stories going on behind the scenes. This show focuses on these.

Lili, an innocent, lovable orphan girl of 17, (Susan Wiedmeyer) comes to the carnival, looking for a job. She is wide-eyed and trusting, but grows up a lot during her short stay there. She meets the handsome, self-impressed, debonair Marco the Magician (Steve Koehler) and is enamored with him immediately. She is introduced to the grouchy, demanding Schlegel (David Ferrie), the frustrated ringmaster as he sees his audiences waning in size and interest.

She meets two puppeteers, Paul and Jacquot (J. Keegan Siebken and Nathan Marinan), who charm her with their creations of Carrot Top, Marguerite, Henry the Horrible Walrus, and Reynaldo the Cagey Fox. She is also made aware of Rosalie (Beth Mulkerron), Marco’s partner, who had claims on him before Lili came along.  Marco has a wandering eye and a faithless heart.

Paul falls in love with Lili and is very perturbed by Marco’s attentions to her. He thinks that Marco will hurt the too trusting, naive Lili, but the irony is that his own love for her is hidden and often disguised as disdain for her. The only way he seems capable of manifesting his true feelings for her is by means of the puppets, especially through Carrot Top and Henry the Horrible Walrus.

Eventually through much turmoil, most problems get resolved, but not without some pain and heartbreak. The story ends with the realization that all humans are complex and many-sided.

The choreography by Karl Miller is charming, and the small orchestra directed by Josh Robinson is right on cue. Wiedmeyer’s light, lilting voice as Lili soars, and Siebken delivers his anguished “I’ve Got to Find a Reason” and “Her Face” with depth and beauty. I liked the zest and strength that Marinan displayed in his portrait of Jacquot. There was a man whom you could trust, an anomaly in this story.

The portrayal of the puppets is especially well-executed, the ensemble numbers are musically pleasing, and Chris Flieller is very impressive as the old lady and the strange vet. That man has quite the range.

Well-directed, as always, by the reliable Jane Flieller, “Carnival” is a treat in every way. It deserves your support.