For Orpheus Musical Theatre Society’s third production this year, they’ve chosen Rodgers & Hammerstien’s Carousel about a carousel barker named Billy Bigelow. Can Carousel match up to the success of Footloose and The Drowsy Chaperone from earlier this season?
Should you see it?
Carousel is the story of the generally troubled Billy Bigelow. Bigelow’s a barker at a Carousel near a small seaside town. As happens in these things, he meets and instantly falls in love with a queer gal (there’s even a song about how queer she is) who instantly falls in love with him back. Trouble is, even though he’s got the best intentions, Billy’s the kind of bad tempered louse who doesn’t fit in well in any kind of civilized company. So when the unsavoury Jigger Craigin (you know he’s a bad ‘un on account of his name) comes a knocking on Billy’s door….
Orpheus pulled out all the usual stops with this one. They’ve got a great set with a wonderfully modular Carousel and coolly lit backdrop of moon and stars. They’ve got a wide range of great costumes ranging from the peaceful villagers to the edgy outsider Jazz-inspired carnies. And they’ve got some wonderful choreography and dancing going on in more than a few numbers.
The main performances were largely all decent-to-strong as well. Brennan Richardson, as Billy Bigelow, had a huge amount of heart and ability to take you from loathing him to feeling his deep sadness and regret. Dave Rowan proved his mettle as a triple threat not only acting the heck out of Jigger Craigin and showing off some vocal prowess, but also stepping up in an extended dance number. And Kodi Cannon is also worth a mention as the right and proper Enoch Snow.
This, of course, is what I’ve come to expect from Orpheus Musical Theatre Society, who hit huge with both Footloose and The Drowsy Chaperone earlier in the season. But not even their most valiant effort was enough to make Carousel anything more than a ‘meh’ show.
So little actually happens in Carousel, what story there is could have been told in thirty minutes. There are nibblets in the story of Billy and Julie (and Jigger and Mrs. Mullin) and in the sub-story of Carrie and Enoch but nothing actually goes anywhere and there’s certainly nobody you’re rooting for, except for Billy perhaps, but I’ll get to that. Carousel does get interesting into the second act when it goes all reverse Twice in a Life Time, but like everything else, there’s no resolution or endings at all. A little speech at the end is supposed to wrap it all up for us, but, really?
Perhaps some song and spectacle could have elevated it, but aside from one memorable number about whalers and whaling, the music is all forgettable and more numbers are simply random rather than tying into and supporting anything at all. This makes the show, unfortunately, all fairly boring.
And as for our ‘hero’ Billy? Well, apparently the message of Carousel is that it’s okay to beat your spouse/etc as long as you really, really love them. Or more generally, it’s okay to be an asshole as long as deep down you’re a good guy who just can’t control himself. I do get that we don’t make changes to source material (and that’s a good thing) but is this a message to be promoting today?
But that’s just my opinion and I want to know what you think. Was I out to lunch and missing all the awesome? Did the character of Billy need some missing depth to make him actually redeemable? What was your favourite number from the show? Tell me in the comments below.
Catch Orpheus Musical Theatre Society’s Carousel at Centrepointe Theatre now through June 9th. Full details on Orpheus’ website.