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Riding a classic 'Carousel' with the Pops

You know "Carousel," the story about that cute couple in Maine, Carrie Pipperidge and Enoch Snow , who get engaged, have a mild tiff, then go on to have nine children? Oh, perhaps you're thinking of a parallel story, in which a naïve girl named Julie Jordan falls hard for carny Billy Bigelow and loves him forever, even though he beats her ("I hit her once!," he protests) before stabbing himself rather than go to jail for robbery.

Uneven casting choices skew, but don't entirely sink, the concert version of "Carousel," which the Boston Pops performed this week and will be taking to Tanglewood July 10. Onstage, even when performers are holding scripts, it's all about who earns the spotlight, and as Carrie, Rebecca Jo Loeb (fresh from acquiring a master's at the Manhattan School of Music) easily usurps this show. Every singing member of the 10-person cast has the requisite vocal chops, but she -- and her partner in domestic bliss, Matthew Anderson -- really shine in the drama department.

Loeb's Carrie is as spirited and warm as her voice, which is buttery-rich in the alto range and slips without a hitch into the purest soprano. Mr. Snow is a small-time fisherman ("Fish is my favorite perfume," Carrie enthuses) with capitalist dreams and the soul of a born burgher. You couldn't ask for better husband material, and Anderson's impassioned rendition of "When the Children Are Asleep" suggests that he'll excel both as future father and as current lover.

Billy Bigelow, of course, is Mr. Snow's antithesis -- the quintessential bad boy -- and Aaron Lazar (who stepped in as Fabrizio in the Lincoln Center run of "Light in the Piazza ") just isn't rough and tough enough: He reads like a transplanted metrosexual adrift in a sea of yokels. Locutions like "ain't" and "feller" don't come naturally, and a chiseled torso in a tight jersey doesn't begin to compensate for Lazar's lack of swagger. Vocally, he was fine, if uninspired (and a bit calculated in his phrasing), and he did manage to work his way up toward a crowd-pleasing squillo at the end of the reprised "If I Loved You."

Eve-Lyn de la Haye , as Julie, had her moments, too, as well as an impressive instrument, but her portrayal was insipid and bland. There's nothing to indicate the fear and daring that would war within a hitherto-innocent girl at the prospect of such a love match. In de la Haye's depiction, Julie is just plain devoted -- it's a done deal from the start.

Broadway vet Rebecca Eichenberger was a standout as Nettie Fowler (she appeared in the '94 Lincoln Center revival). A tightly focused, personable performer (a bit reminiscent of Joanna Gleason), she knocked "June Is Bustin' Out All Over" right out of the park, and later exhibited more than ample gravitas to carry off "You'll Never Walk Alone."

In nonsinging roles, area favorite Paula Plum did well by the blowsy Mrs. Mullen, and Patrick Shea was superb as the narrator. This undersung local treasure even got the Downeaster accent right.

Maestro Keith Lockhart was in fine form, clearly enjoying the experience and bringing out some of the subtleties of the score. A deep string section -- 22 strong, as specified in the 1945 original -- delivered on the lushness of the orchestration, with its circusy riffs interspersed with intimations of impending tragedy.


'Carousel' in Concert

Boston Pops Orchestra

Keith Lockhart, conductor

At: Symphony Hall, Thursday night