I always get a little nervous when going to see a ‘classic’ play that I’ve never seen or read before. Especially when I have to write about it afterwards..? Can’t help but worry I’m gonna come off like a total rube, like an Amish dude writing a critique of the Indy 500 or something. Although three years on in this blog (I just missed my anniversary, yay!), I think I’m somehow still riding that ‘I’m new and fresh-faced’ vibe as part of my charm, so hopefully I can get away with one more dull-witted take on a classic.
And musicals don’t come much more classic than Rodgers and Hammerstein’s CAROUSEL, getting put up here in Ottawa by the unflappable masses at the Orpheus Musical Society. This was only my third time out at an Orpheus show, after INTO THE WOODS a couple years back and DROWSY CHAPERONE earlier this season. This time it was my intro to the legendary show from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II (Holy shit, Rodgers and Hammerstein have FIRST NAMES..!), over on the lovely Centrepointe Theatre stage. A sparse set from designer Jenn Donnelly, complete with compartmentalized and hand-worked Carousel, created the late 19th century scene nicely, and I settled in to a perfectly bloody lovely seat (seriously, it was literally a double-wide, SO sweet) to see just what this classic was all about.
The tale follows a sharp-tongued young lass name of Julie Jordan (Bianca Pietracupa), a factory worker who prefers side trips to the local carousel with her bestie Carrie Pipperidege (Susanna Atkinson) than a life on the loom. It’s at the Carousel that she meets handsome barker Billy Bigelow (Brennan Richardson), a rough type who she seems to think has a roguish, early Han Solo quality that’s worth taking a chance on. After they both lose their jobs in rapid succession, they move in with a lady name of Nettie Fowler (Laura Burk) who runs a sort of restaurant/Inn/I don’t know what, but whatever it is, Nettie seems a friendly sort. Unlike Billy’s new pal Jigger Craigin (Dave Rowan, reuniting with Richardson after their turn together in last year’s Fringe show DON’T MAKE ME ZEALOUS), a sneering, strutting villain who wants to rope Billy into his latest get-rich-quick-through-violence scheme. Despite some interference from Billy’s former Carousel boss Mrs.Mullin (a ferocious Barb Seabright), Billy ditches the local clambake to try and make some much needed quick cash, and that’s where everything goes pretty epically wrong.
CAROUSEL really isn’t what I was expecting from a musical ‘classic’…sure, there are songs aplenty, including one or two I even recognized from other sources. But our ‘hero’ Billy Bigelow is anything but…he struggles mightily, but more often than not gives in to his base instincts, much to his regret. Brennan Richardson does nicely as the tragic lead, as does the very wonderful Bianca Pietracupa as Julie. Susanna Atkinson as her pal Carrie has some great moments too, along with her comically straight-edge suitor Enoch Snow (Kodi Cannon). Very much loved Dave Rowan as the cutthroat Jigger, especially good’n’nasty when taunting Mrs.Mullin with growls of ‘common woman’, or dancing a merry whaling jig with his fellow sailors (Is that why they call him Jigger..?) . As for the supernatural twist that happens in the last act…fuck me, am I the only one who didn’t see that coming at ALL? Because it took me a few minutes to adjust. For reals.
This was a fun show…I’ll admit, I enjoyed CHAPERONE more on the whole (that ‘clambake’ song I pinched this blog-title from felt like musical filler if ever I heard it), and sometimes wished there was more going on direction-wise, but the Carousel gang still performed hardcore. When Laura Burk belts out the classic ‘Never Walk Alone’, it’s a show stopper. I heard many a voice singing along with the tunes all around me from my double-sized perch, as good a sign as I need that musical fans should enjoy what they saw. Orpheus finishes off this season in good form, and I’m almost embarrassed to admit how much I’m looking forward to LEGALLY BLONDE in November. Which is weird, since I’ve never seen the movie. Research night, anyone? Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)