Carnival, at Gloucester Stage, through July 22 a treat for all

GLOUCESTER – “Carnival,” a 1961 Broadway musical, is rarely performed – and this month?s Gloucester Stage Company production is a rare treat.Based on the 1953 MGM movie “Lili,” starring Leslie Caron as the title character, the play starred Anna Maria Alberghetti in the story of a childlike young woman who joins a carnival and becomes caught up with two performers: the show?s magician, an aging seducer, and a dark, tormented puppeteer, whose puppets become her closest friends.It is a children?s story for grownups in which Lili spends the first act establishing herself as a carnival performer and the second act establishing herself as a person.In addition to character actors who can sing and dance as well as act, the show requires one male lead who can perform sleight of hand and another who can work hand puppets and supply their voices – and an ingénue lead with a stunning soprano voice.The chorus performers must be able to sing and dance while performing acrobatic routines, and at one dark moment in the story the hero slaps Lili in a fit of jealousy, a moment that requires nightly rehearsals so that she doesn?t get hurt.Artistic Director Eric Engel, who directed the play, admits that the play has “always had a place in my heart” and this year he set about seeking the newcomers he needed for his leads and rehearsing 18 cast members and six musicians on GSC?s tight two-week schedule, aided by Choreographer Jodi Leigh Allen and Music Director Todd C. Gordon.Gus Curry (the puppeteer), Paul Farwell (carnival owner B. F. Schlegel), Shannon Lee Jones (Rosalie), Daniel Robert Sullivan (Marco the Magnificent, the magician), Doug Lockwood (the puppeteer?s partner) and Victoria Thornsbury (Lili) have come from far and wide to make their Gloucester Stage Company debuts.Thornsbury, a veteran of Disney Cruise Lines productions, is perfectly cast as Lili, hitting every note musically and emotionally. Jones, the sadder but wiser woman, has uproarious duets with Farwell and Sullivan, drinking her way through the song with Farwell and grimacing between the lines as Sullivan sticks swords through the box that imprisons her.John King as Dr. Glass, Jones?s would-be wealthy husband, generates some laughs as a veterinarian who brings a couple of small patients along to woo her.The puppets, designed by New Yorkers Michael Bottari and Ronald Case for another production of “Carnival” that failed to materialize, hold their own with Curry?s help.This is a rarity that deserves to be an everyday experience.If You Go? “Carnival” can be seen at the Gloucester Stage Company, 267 East Main St., Gloucester through July 22; Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., withmatinees on Saturdays at 3 p.m. andSundays at 4 p.m. Tickets are $40, $35 for seniors and students. Further information is available at the box office,(978) 281-4433 or www.gloucesterstage.org.

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