Arena Stage delivers a unique take on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel this holiday season. Under the direction of Molly Smith, the show tells a timeless tale full of heartache, love, healing and forgiveness. With a simplistic, yet effective set, mesmerizing carousel lights, and a show-stopping orchestra, Carousel allows the audience to be transported to another place and time.
The show opens to a quiet town in coastal Maine, where Julie Jordan (Betsy Morgan) and best friend Carrie Pepperidge are mill workers. That evening, they go to the town’s carousel where Julie meets the rebellious Billy Bigelow (powerfully played by Helen Hayes award-winner Nicholas Rodriguez). Julie is banned by her boss from returning to the carousel after Billy flirts with her on the ride.
Billy loses his job after defending her to the authoritative Carousel owner Ms. Mullin (E. Faye Butler). Meanwhile in a supporting storyline, we get to know Carrie (Kate Rockwell), a sweet, beautiful and hopeful young woman who has found her true love in an enthusiastic Enoch Snow (Kurt Boehm).
Billy and Julie end up marrying, but unfortunately this relationship is very complex. Julie confides in Carrie that Billy beats her, which was a difficult thing for me to hear personally after a long week of election news. Enoch arrives on scene with Carrie and the ensemble where they belt out an encore of “Mister Snow”. The audience will feel the chemistry between Enoch and Carrie as they share tender moments singing “When the Children are Asleep.”
After a hard day of fishing, the scoundrel Jigger Craigin (Kyle Schliefer) and other fishermen try to convince Billy to help them with a robbery in a rousing rendition of “Blow High, Blow Low.” Shortly thereafter, Julie reveals she’s pregnant. In the penultimate song of Act I, ‘Soliloquy”, Billy shares his feelings about becoming a father and ultimately decides to go along with the robbery to try to secure much-needed money for his family.
Act II starts the audience off on an upbeat note at the annual clambake. The community celebrates with the jubilant “A Real Nice Clambake” but we know something ominous is going to occur. Billy sneaks off from the clambake treasure hunt to commit the robbery. However, the robbery fails and Billy dies with the ever-devoted Julie by his side.
From there we are taken to the after life. Billy goes to purgatory and meets the Starkeeper, who tells Billy that to get into Heaven, he must return to Earth and do a good deed. On Earth, 15 years have passed, and Billy sees his daughter, the young Louise who is an outcast in the town, trying to make her way in the world.
Billy gives her a star from Heaven, and she refuses the gift. He slaps her hand and leaves, just missing Julie’s discovery of the star. The next time Billy sees his daughter is at her graduation, where Billy tells her to believe in herself and not to be defined by her parents, and then tells Julie that he loved her harkening back to the moving song “If I Loved You”. The show ends as Billy is taken back to Heaven and the people he left behind are at peace.
Carousel is an emotional production that tackles themes of domestic violence, redemption and forgiveness. I would love to see it re-imagined with a bent on modern society. Due to more mature themes in this show, I’d recommend it for children ages 12 and up.
What To Know
- Carousel runs through December 24, 2016 at Arena Stage. Performances are Tuesday to Sunday, with matinee shows at 12:00 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 2:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, and evening performances at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and at 8:00 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
- Post Show discussions will be held on November 15th and 16th and December 14th and 21st after the 12:00 p.m. matinees, November 22nd after the 7:30 p.m. show, and December 1st after the 8:00 p.m. show.
- Tickets are $50 to $99, and can be purchased at arenastage.org. Discounts can be found online.
- The show runs for approximately 2 and a half hours, including a 15 minute intermission.
- Arena has the onsite Catwalk Café that sells specialty items for the show, and a concession stand that serves drinks and snacks during intermission.
- Onsite parking at the Arena garage is $19 if booked in advance, and $22 on the day of the show. There is metered street parking as well, and the nearest Metro is Waterfront on the Green line.
- Fun Fact: Arena Stage is inviting wounded warriors, service men and women plus their families to a complimentary dinner and performance of Carousel at the Mead Center for American Theater on Friday, November 25, 2016. If you’d like to get involved, click here.
Photos by Maria Baranova.