SHE SAID: CAROUSEL in a tiny black box theater? I didn’t think it could be done. CAROUSEL, one of Rogers & Hammerstein’s most difficult shows to pull off: R&H take romance from the heights of passion to the depths of domestic violence (which is condoned in CAROUSEL, raising feminist hackles by the by, mine included), all the way to heaven! I certainly didn’t think a small company like F.U.D.G.E. could manage the sprawling musical. Well, Friends United Developing Genuine Entertainment is ten years old this year and they give it their best shot.
Some elements work remarkably well and some are less successful but their production packs the requisite punch. The woman next to me gasped at the right time and sobbed at the end. (I even felt a tear in my eye and I know what’s coming.) Here’s what works. I heard lyrics which usually sail right by. I heard chords in early songs like “If I Loved You” that foreshadow the tragedy to come, notes which appear later in the “Soliloquy,” when a reckless Billy (Dave Carney) vows “to steal it or take it or die”. They’ve always been there but I never noticed them before.
Furthermore, in addition to some clever staging, director Joe DeMita does the impossible by designing a set which doubles as the actual carousel, houses the orchestra on the carnival roof AND doesn’t look crowded. Then he invents choreography for mostly non-dancers which is pretty impressive…and which soars when the radiant Kimberly Fife as Billy’s little girl executes the heartbreaking, defiant beach ballet!
DeMita and music director Stephen Schapero get lovely singing from Stephanie Schapero as the foolish mill girl who sets her cap for Billy even though she knows “the ending will be sad”…from Holly Ann Marshall as her best friend and confidante (Marshall gives a spirited comic performance) and from TJ Rufo as Marshall’s stuffy intended.
HE SAID: Here’s what’s missing: Billy should be more grounded, more comfortable in his own skin. He boasts he can have any woman he wants. Girls throw themselves at him. They even give him their hard earned money for beer. Mrs. Mullins has plenty of employees at the carnival but she can’t do without Billy. He brings in the female customers (and he’s hers when day is done). We need to see the arrogance, the physicality, the sexual energy. Where’s the attraction Laurie feels? We need to see why she falls for him…and more importantly we need to see why he’s thrown for a loop over her.
If the F.U.D.G.E. production played up the sexual tension between Billy and Mrs. Mullin, it could pay off handsomely when she wants to caress her dead lover one last time. And it would pay off for Julie when she lets the older woman go to him. As it stands now, it’s a lost moment. It could speak volumes about Julie’s acceptance of Billy’s character, knowing she loves a man not equipped to handle maturity, marriage and unemployment (That might resonate with the current economic crisis: A rise in unemployment rates means a rise in violence and Julie does say that’s why he hits her.)
There ought to be sparks when Jigger and Mrs. Mullin fight over Billy but he’s not menacing enough and she’s not ferocious enough. The relationships between the characters in F.U.D.G.E.’s CAROUSEL aren’t fleshed out. It’s like the blinking white lights on the carousel. There should be colored lights, reflecting the fantasy and promise of the frenetic overture ballet.
CAROUSEL spins in Watertown through August 6th at the Arsenal Arts Center, then it sets up again at the Next Door Center in Winchester through August 20th.