COMPOSER Richard Rodgers considered the 1945 "Carousel" his favorite of the landmark Broadway musicals he wrote with Oscar Hammerstein II. Unfortunately, the expensive-looking revival of the show at the Kennedy Center Opera House is as wooden as a carousel horse.

"Carousel" is blessed with a bevy of beautiful songs -- "If I Loved You," "Mister Snow" and "What's the Use of Wonderin' " -- and it's always a pleasure to hear those melodies again in such graceful orchestrations. But there's something seriously wrong with a "Carousel" that can't even wring a tear from such a guaranteed choker-upper as "You'll Never Walk Alone."

This "Carousel's" fatal flaw is the absence of any visible affinity between the two ill-starred New England lovers, the ingenuous Julie Jordan and her footloose carny boyfriend, Billy Bigelow.

As Julie, Katharine Buffaloe sings with a crystalline purity of tone and delicacy of diction, but hers is a concert-hall approach and her doll-like Julie remains a blank, never assuming more than a single dimension.

Playing Billy is Tom Wopat, former star of TV's "Dukes of Hazzard." Dressed to look squat rather than solid, Wopat struggles admirably to do everything right -- it's just that his efforts are so painfully visible. Wopat has a pleasant but limited singing range but no sense of phrasing, and he acts strictly from his shoulders. Though Buffaloe sits nearby, Wopat seems to sing "If I Loved You" to an empty stage, and the point of the song clearly escapes him. It's a mystery what possessed the producers to assign this crucial role to Wopat, whose box-office name value is questionable at best.

The show's real bright spot is Faith Prince, a sparkler with a brassy showbiz voice, playing Julie's best friend Carrie Pipperidge. Prince singlehandedly jumpstarts the show in her three important songs -- including the swooning "Mr. Snow" -- which are fortunately spaced throughout.

Director James Hammerstein, son of lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, seems to be working from old photographs, barely managing to move the characters from one song to the next. Even with several sailing ships and an armada of performers, the stage looks empty and Hammerstein maintains a consistently flat tone in every scene. Peter Martins' new choreography is comically inventive in spots, notably the whalers' "Hornpipe" dance, but his fantasy ballet for Billy's 15-year-old daughter is loaded with so much incongruous sexual imagery it seems it must be left over from another ballet project. -- Joe Brown.

CAROUSEL -- At the Kennedy Center Opera House through July 19.