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This 'Carousel' turns as a faithful rendition

WALTHAM -- If you've only seen Rodgers and Hammerstein's ''Carousel" in an abridged or amateur version, the Reagle Players' sumptuous and sensitive rendition of this 1945 epic will be a revelation. First and foremost is choreographer Gemze de Lappe's work. De Lappe was an original Agnes de Mille dancer, and she has re-created the breakthrough work of her mentor. These include a lengthy and emotionally complex ballet in Act 2.

Reagle, now in its 37th season, is known for full-stage productions that usually include a village-size chorus and an imported star or two (here, a likable Shirley Jones). Director/producer Robert J. Eagle cuts his theater pieces from another era's cloth. He embraces the musical warhorse, yet prefers not to ''re-envision," noting in the program that Reagle's mission is ''to produce the most faithful re-creation of the Broadway original."

''Carousel" was electrifying 60 years ago, and it's still astonishing, not least for having a thoroughly unappetizing male lead. It's based on a Ferenc Molnar tale about a violent roustabout who meets his match in a loving wife, though Rodgers and Hammerstein transposed the setting from Budapest to a New England fishing village.

There's a rambunctious uptempo ensemble number, ''June Is Bustin' Out All Over," energetically handled by Jones, who still has a crystalline upper register, and an interesting warble in her middle range. But the mesmerizing pieces are ''If I Loved You" and ''You'll Never Walk Alone," which rely on performers who can act while singing.

Nat Chandler has a firm jaw and a firmer baritone as Billy the circus barker. As his love interest, Reagle alumna Sarah Pfisterer (''My Fair Lady," ''Music Man") is a splendid and believable Julie. The ''shocking" plot twist -- Billy has struck Julie -- becomes one link in the chain of guilt that drives Billy into the great beyond. Eagle has brought out the vulnerable lunkhead side of Billy, a character who could easily be a cartoon.

De Mille wrote in her memoir, ''And Promenade Home," that she always aimed to follow the author's original intent in creating dances ''keyed to scene and mood." The Act 2 ballet featuring Billy and Julie's child (played by Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck) is both reverie and romp. Hilsabeck extends her legs luxuriously in long developes and holds her torso ramrod-straight, shoulders back, hands down. It's a style that modern musicals have neither time nor taste for, but it's pure poetry, as are the ensemble pieces ''A Real Nice Clambake"and ''June Is Bustin' Out All Over."

The supporting cast, including the charismatic Cheryl McMahon as Billy's carny benefactor and Victor Warren as a perfectly predatory Jigger Craigin, is cohesive, and despite a few lighting miscues, this Carousel is a memorable ride.

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