It does not happen very often. Even on Broadway, theater takes an uncanny turn toward the flash and the glitz; the spectacle becomes the leading vehicle. It’s all about the pyrotechnics, the flying sets and actors…the “show”. However, every once in a while, a director comes along who sees that the story is the most important aspect — everything else in the show just enhances the storyline. Walter A. Webster understands.
CAROUSEL is a critically acclaimed Rodgers & Hammerstein musical that opened in 1945. A story set in 1873 Maine that follows a carousel barker through a life…and death…transformation. Billy Bigelow meets Julie Jordan, and he leaves the barker business and marries her. As time and life struggles come along, as they always do, Bigelow realizes that he neither has the money nor the means to properly take care of his family and ends up getting involved in a botched robbery with Jigger Craigin. Bigelow takes his own life, since there is no turning back in his mind. The rest of the story follows the redemption of Bigelow, as he is allowed to return to Earth for a day to try to redeem himself by helping his now 15-year-old daughter see that life is worth living to its fullest. It’s a beautifully tragic story intricately weaving in some of the most beautiful music ever scored…a score that features classics like “If I Loved You” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone”.
The Off Broad Street Players presents this classical piece of theater at the Levoy Theatre with verve and gusto. While the choreography during the longer instrumental pieces and some of the set changes are clunky, the acting and singing and simplicity are so refreshing and captivating. The most promising acting and singing actually comes from the three characters that are intricately involved in the subplot. Julie Jordan’s friend, Carrie Pipperidge is also falling in love. Her beau to be is Enoch Snow. Like so many stories from this time period, this one shows the tragic side of love right alongside the best that love can be. Miss Pipperidge and Mr. Snow unite and go on to have a beautiful family. The other member of the storyline of whom to take note is Nettie Fowler, Julie’s cousin, who helps Julie throughout her relationship with Bigelow.
Arielle Egan (Carrie Pipperidge) has the poise and style of a Broadway star. Her voice rains down upon the audience with a sweetness and power that is so moving. Taylor Brody (Enoch Snow) compliments Egan with a beautiful elegance and just enough power to match his character’s station as the character moves from small town fisherman to business mogul. Where this show takes its most surprising turn is with Kaitlyn Cox. In most shows, the main actors are the standouts…those that will ultimately be the focus and center of attention. Frank DiMauro (Billy Bigelow) and Rachel Burghen (Julie Jordan) are deserving of focus and attention in this story…don’t get me wrong. However, Cox’s Nettie Fowler seems at first to be an ancillary character…that is until she opens her mouth to sing. Whoa! Quite honestly, Cox’s rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” left me in awe of her strength and beauty…this moment was heavenly.
So…the most important aspect…the story, brilliantly told from actors that are clearly masters of their trade. But, what about the direction? Was Webster successful? Well, let me put it this way. The story takes place, as I said earlier, in 1873. Times were very different from what they are now. Today, you hear cursing, witness unspeakable acts of violence…all from our couches in our living rooms as we watch stories play out on that electronic box we call television. When this show opened in 1945, these things would have been unheard of as entertainment, so the marital struggles of Bigelow and Jordan would have been uncomfortable to watch for that audience. Today, not so much. Most of us would not even blink an eye. But…and here is the clincher for this production. We were! We were appalled when Bigelow took the Lord’s name in vain. We were physically and mentally unprepared for the domestic abuse contained in the story. We were outraged! We were sad…okay, I cried…but just a little. This is masterful direction. This is taking an audience back in time and telling a story so well that we forgot where we were. For those three hours, we were a part of something bigger. We were a part of something more pure. For this short (and yes, the over three hour production felt short) moment, the cast and crew made sure we didn’t walk alone.
The Off Broad Street Players’ production of CAROUSEL runs through February 15th.
Music by Richard Rodgers; Book & Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Based on the play Liliom by Ferenc Molnar
Adapted by Benjamin F. Glazer
Directed by Walter A. Webster
February 6 – 15, 2015
The Levoy Theatre
130 N. High Street
Millville, New Jersey 08332