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THEATER REVIEW: “Carnival!” at Coronado Playhouse

If you’ve ever dreamed of running off with the circus, here’s the next best thing: watch somebody else do it in the 1961 musical “Carnival!” playing through Aug. 4 at Coronado Playhouse.

Based on the 1953 film “Lili” (which starred Leslie Caron), “Carnival!” recounts the adventures of Lili, a naive young orphan looking for a home and a job with a sleazy French traveling circus.

Lili (wonderfully played and sung by Laura Lothian) will be used and abused by several circus performers, beginning with souvenir salesman Grobert (M.G. Perez).

She is rescued by the tall, handsome magician Marco the Magnificent (David Guthrie), who enchants her by doing a magic trick. Soon she agrees to work with him in his act. This does not set well with Marco’s partner/girlfriend Rosalie (the excellent Sarah Stair), who has been down this road before but this time threatens to leave the circus to marry a doctor.

In another part of the circus, Lili is captivated by puppeteer Paul (Jacob Davis) and his assistant Jacquot (Aaron Fennell), whose four puppets Carrot Top, Horrible Henry the walrus, Marguerite the aging ballerina and Reynardo the fox are a circus highlight. When Paul, an unhappy and wounded soul who limps from a war injury, co-opts Lili to help with the act, it becomes one of the most popular attractions ... and Paul realizes he is falling in love with Lili.

It’s a simple plot, enlivened by colorful costumes (kudos to Peters and Janice Brandon) and circus-type acts: a juggler (Candice Dalsing), an aerialist (Travis Ti Spackman), “Siamese twins” Gladys (Sunny Gold) and Gloria (Claudette Santiago), a strongman (Ken Baker) and snake charmer Olga (Courtney Michelle Johnson).

Though the music (by Bob Merrill, of “Funny Girl”) is not his best, it is pleasant enough. The most famous tune is “Love Makes The World Go Round,” but “Beautiful Candy” will please impulse shoppers in the crowd and Rosalie’s complaint about Marco, “Humming,” is a hoot.

Peters is practically a one-man operation here: he not only directs with a sure hand but also designed the set and had a hand in both costume and sound design.

This cast offers fine acting and musicality – especially from Davis, whose rich baritone is a pleasure to hear, Guthrie (whose voice and attitude show us why Marco thinks he runs the joint) and Stair. But the clear musical star is Lothian, whose lovely soprano voice is simply captivating.

“Carnival!” will never become a classic, but running off with the circus is a great summer dream and “Carnival!” gives audiences a chance to see something a bit off the beaten track.

The details

“Carnival!” plays through Aug. 4 at the Coronado Playhouse, 1835 Strand Way, Coronado.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

Tickets: (619) 435-4856 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.