Carousel, Festival Theatre, Chichester <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Carousel, Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1945 musical about doomed love and posthumous second chances, twists and lifts the heart in Angus Jackson's wonderful revival at Chichester. From the magical, gathering expectancy of the "Carousel Waltz" at the start, to the stoical hope of the reprised anthem "You'll Never Walk Alone" at the close, the orchestra and cast do radiant justice to a score that has never been surpassed for melodic beauty.

It may end in uplift, but this show takes love into dark places. A marriage-guidance counsellor would have no hesitation in advising mill girl Julie Jordan to sever her relationship with Billy Bigelow, the fairground barker who, frustrated at being out of work and always in the wrong, is inclined to hit her. But the music and the excellent performances by Harriet Shore and Norman Bowman make you feel the desperate sadness rather than the wrong-headedness of this romance.

Is there any other musical in which the central couple can express their love for each other only in the conditional mood of the lovely song "If I Loved You", before the death of one of them lifts the restraint? Shore and Bowman bring out all the yearning-yet-tentative tenderness in that duet of wary courtship.

The production handles with wit and charm the Capra-esque afterlife that is supervised by Roy Dotrice's humanely rum old Starkeeper, who allows Billy one day back on Earth to perform a good deed. The potentially grating whimsy of this is offset by the painfulness of the hero's return. Clemmie Sveaas is superb as his 15-year-old daughter, Louise, dancing with a terrific sensual abandon the knockout ballet of erotic awakening that Javier De Frutos has choreographed for this revival. She's a touchy chip off the old block, and Sveaas lets you see her aching neediness as well as her defiance.

There is one misjudged moment. Desperate to give her a star, Billy falls back into his old ways when she resists, and he hits her. But here it's just a rap on the wrist, which sanitises the regression and makes Louise's claim that it felt like a kiss, not a slap, too straightforwardly acceptable.

There isn't a weak link in the cast. Lydia Griffiths and Robert Irons are a delight as the contrasting, amusingly conventional secondary leads. And with the current heatwave and Jacqui Dubois in ebullient voice as Nettie Fowler, it's almost an understatement to say that "June is Bustin' Out All Over" at Chichester.

To 1 September (01243 781312)