Classic R&H: CAROUSEL at Plays and Players

by Ethel Guy

David Stahl (Mr. Snow), Teri Leahy (Julie) and Eileen Cella (Carrie) in a scene from Plays & Players' CAROUSEL. (Photo courtesy Tom Ryan/Plays and Players)

Plays and Players’ current production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s CAROUSEL takes us back to a time when women had fewer choices, their options were limited, and they were judged in the black and white categories of good (wives and cosseted maidens) and bad (women who gave in to love and dreams). Men were either upstanding and honest, hard working husbands like fisherman Enoch Snow or his opposite, the shiftless carnival barker, Billy Bigelow. But when Billy meets Julie Jordan, a young woman who lives in Nettie Fowler’s very proper boarding house and works at the local mill, the black and white categories begin to shift into the uncharted territory of love.

Julie (Teri Leahy) and her friend, Carrie Pipperidge, (Eileen Cella) come to the carnival where Billy (John D’Alonzo) works to enjoy their rare time off. During the sweeping opening chorus we are pulled into the swirl and magic of the carnival with all its characters and actions, but the liveliness is lost of Julie and Billy who only have eyes or each other. Of course, it is scandalous for a common roustabout like Billy to be seen putting his arm around Julie on the carousel. Billy’s boss, Mrs. Mullin (Susan Matson) is none too happy about it either; it’s obvious that she has her designs on Billy as well.

D’Alonzo establishes Billy from the beginning as hard, careless, and roughshod. But once Julie makes her feelings for him known – very subtly, of course, as was the custom in that time – he takes Billy’s character into a gentle, slow modification that shows us that there is a tenderness hidden deep in Billy that longs to respond to Julie’s declared love as they gingerly explore the unknown, not daring to make outright declarations but sharing, tentatively, “If I loved you…”

Billy’s attitude changes once he learns he is to be a father. D’Alonzo takes the stage in a sweeping soliloquy as he wonders what his child will be like, and it is obvious that he is deeply moved at the prospect of fatherhood. But how will he take care of his wife and child? Unfortunately he tries to make money by joining forces with the scoundrel and thief Jigger Craigin (Tom Osborne) and the results are tragic.

Billy is given one last chance to see his daughter from afar. By now – since earth time moves quicker than time eternal – she is already a young woman. At this point the performance takes a giant leap into the conceptual with a ballet depicting his daughter Louise (Justina Ercole) and her boyfriend (Jonathan Rivera) who bears a striking resemblance to a young Billy. He is a carnival boy; are we seeing Louise following her mother’s footsteps?

The ballet sequence is the highlight of the show and skillfully executed by these two young dancers. No words are needed to convey the broad range of emotions in this beautiful dance. It is worth the price of admission to see this touching display of life, longing, and hope.

This current production at Plays and Players Theatre on Delancey Place in Philadelphia is a visual feast. The simple yet very functional set takes advantage of the theater’s high proscenium and serves the actors well (although I do wish they could modulate the harsh green Astroturf on the boulders a bit) and the costumes are spot-on authentic, gorgeous in period detail. The vocal quality is excellent. The only enhancement might be more dance sequences to take advantage of the broad, lush melodies of, for instance, “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” and “A Real Nice Clambake”.

But all in all, that’s exactly what this production is – a real nice clambake, and we are awfully glad we came!

by Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II
Directed by Lance Moore
May 27 – June 12, 2010
Plays and Players Theatre
1714 Delancey Place
Philadelphia, PA

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