Carousel By Rogers and Hammerstein
Directed by Julia Gagne
Starring Paul Hambidge, Beatrice Roberts, Karlyn Koebe and John Clayton
Musical Direction by Tim Hanes and Alan Gerber
Choreography by Lesley Brasseux-Rodgers
Valencia Character Company, Valencia State College, Orlando FL
I loved the show, but hated the script. Late in 19th century Maine, industry and morality push young women in to mill jobs with paternalistic bosses. Dating is strictly controlled, but Julie (Roberts) and Carrie (Koebe) get some time to visit the local fair where Carousel Barker Billy Bigelow (Hambidge) seduces young Julie. It’s a tame seduction; they marry before much untoward occurs. She’s naive and he’s abusive and there’s a baby on the way by Scene Three. Carrie is fussier; she snags pompous and prosperous Enoch Snow (Clayton) who has money and exceptionally productive sperm. If only slacker Billy could get his old job back, Julie could eat, but he’s too proud to return even after his ex-boss Mrs. Mullin (Leontyne Carter) begs him. His sleazy buddy Jigger (Travis Eaton) has a better idea – knock off the mill payroll while the town is out having a clam bake. Things go badly, but thanks to Broadway Theology Billy gets a second chance if he “does something especially good” for someone. This pretty much amounts to whispering “Believe in yourself” into his daughter’s ear at high school graduation. Normally, the Valedictorian does that, but in a small town everyone pitches in.
While the payoff might be small, the production is huge. The scenery and lighting (Kristen Abel and Sonia Pasqual) are stunning – large trees and a New England granite ledge drop from the fly loft, a working carousel and a full midway open the show, and a Down East fishing dock appears, lacking only a gift shop to complete the experience. The musical numbers are excellent as well; this show hosts “June is Busting Out All Over”, “You Never Walk Alone,” and “A Real Nice Clambake.” Billy starts out tentative but by the time he sings “Soliloquy” he shows a fine voice and great presence. Robert’s Julie and Koebe’s Carrie take well to this score and Nettie Fowler (Carol Sissom) belts out the lead in “June” with gusto. Billy and Julie take care of the exposition early with “If I Loved You,” but when Billy sings it post mortem, it takes on new meaning.
Where this show stalls is in the dance and ballet numbers. While I enjoyed the opening carnival set, after a while I started thinking “Is anything interesting going to happen?” There are several large dance productions, and while they were well choreographed (by Lesley Brasseux-Rodgers) and cleverly staged they seemed to be spectacle for spectacles sake, seemed over long. With a dark and difficult story line these excursions kept the show from building to a thrilling climax, and the odd scenes in heaven felt added to give the story a feel good ending. It’s a long pull up to Maine, and I recommend you bring a coat. It’s mighty chilly up there.
For more information on Valencia Character Company, please visit http://www.valenciacc.edu/arts/