Theatre Review: “Carousel” at Indy Civic

Last Friday I drove to the Indianapolis Civic Theatre on the west side of Indy to see “Carousel” for the first time. This 1945 musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II won 5 Tony Awards for its 1994 Broadway revival.  Time magazine called it the best musical of the 20th century.  Our own Lou Harry (arts editor for the Indianapolis Business Journal) admires it, too.

In fact, Lou wrote an article “In Defense of Rodgers and Hammerstein” last week for the IBJ that I just loved.   It helped me understand how I could find a musical depressing but still be glad I saw it.

The Story and (Maybe) Its Meaning

Throughout Act One I thought that “Carousel” was the story of two stupid but endearing women in a seaside resort village in 1870s New England. 

One – a naïve mill girl named Julie Jordan (Theresa Koleszar, at right in above photo) –  falls in love with a sexy jerk of a carnival barker, Billy Bigelow (Brandon Alstott.)  She gives up her job and her reputation on a whim to be with him, and he says, “God, you’re dumb!”

And I‘m sorry, dear readers, but she is.

The other woman is her friend and co-worker, Carrie Pipperidge (Betsy A. Norton, at left in above photo), who chooses for her mate another kind of man.  Fisherman Enoch Snow (Collin Poynter – see photo below) at first seems to be the opposite of Billy.  He seems to be thoughtful, reliable, and fun (I love that he brings her a packet of flower seeds instead of a bouquet of flowers) and he seems to be completely appreciative of Carrie.  However, over time he shows himself to actually be just another brand of jerk.  He turns out to be arrogant and stuffy, with a very limited imagination.  He only cares about how Carrie fits into his already-finalized dreams and plans.

Carrie gives him nine children, though, (played by Elijah Bush, Noah Bush, Alexsa Fratianni, Katie Mehrlich, Elaine Ortyl, Teresa Ortyl, Morgan Patrick-Roof, and Laney Wilson) and enjoys a materially better life with her man than Julie does with Billy.  Billy can’t seem to find a job after leaving the carnival and he hits Julie.

The thought of spending my life with either Billy or Enoch makes me shudder.  I wouldn’t do it even if I loved them.  But that’s just me.  And, like Lou Harry, I don’t think that Rodgers and Hammerstein meant to imply that abusive relationships are okay.

Ultimately, though, “Carousel” is not about stupid women or a lack of likable men.  At the end of Act One, Billy has a knife in his hand and suddenly the story is all about him.  Ultimately, “Carousel” is the story of one particular loser (Billy) who manages, with a lot of help from heaven, to finally become a person.

But he does so only after it is too late to truly return his wife’s love or to truly help their daughter, Louise (Olivia Frieden.)   

See what I mean about depressing?

So…I think “Carousel” is a love story but it is also a cautionary tale.  It says to audiences: look to your own lives, and if there is someone you’ve been taking for granted, WAKE UP NOW and show them that you love them.  TELL them that you love them.  Don’t kid yourself that some weepy finale is going to do it for you.  Don’t kid yourself that just because it is never too late for redemption that you will never have any regrets if you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing with your life.

Hmm.  

Well, if you go to see this show, I would be interested in hearing/reading your take on its meaning, too.

This Production

There are other reasons to see this show besides its uniqueness as a musical.  Civic’s production of “Carousel” is visually stunning.  Ryan Koharchik’s set and lighting designs are either dark or dazzling in this show but they are always magical.  They perfectly enhance both the suspense and the humor in the story as well as its themes.  The whole stage is a sort of carousel, with curved pieces swirling the characters on and off, up and down, in circular patterns that surprise and delight.  (Allison Ackmann is the stage manager.)  Glimpses of always cloud-filled and sometimes stormy sky through jagged holes in the walls of the set give the feeling of being always aware of, and connected to, the weather, the way I imagine carnival workers and fishing villagers have to be. 

Jean Engstrom’s multi-period costumes are swoon-worthy, too, from the rich bustles and flounces on the women’s long dresses to the glittering carnival dancers’ outfits to the smarmy outfits of the Snow children to the feisty striped shirts of the whaling men. 

Oh, those whaling men!  I loved their fun, masculine, Popeye-esque moves as they sang “Blow High, Blow Low” and prepared for their next sail.  (Original dances by Agnes de Mille.  Choreography for this production is by Michael Worcel.  The male ensemble includes Vince Accetturo, Jeremy Allen Brimm, Donovan E.  Fouts, Aaron Huey, Nathan Hurst, Adam A. Shaff, Rory D. Shivers, Mark Whetstone, and Laney Wilson.)

I also laughed along when the women sang that “There’s nothing so bad for a woman as a man who thinks he’s good.”  I think that line, which I had to jot down as soon as I heard it, is from the prelude to a song called “What’s the Use of Wond’rin’.”  (The female ensemble includes Amanda Brantley, Hannah Deardorff, Olivia Frieden, Maggie Harry, Emily Jordan, Vickie Klosky, Annie Quigley, Abby Scharbrough, Katie Stark, and Tiffany Whisner.)

Back to the costumes: Debbie Williams’ hair/wig designs complement the costume designs well. (Although Julie’s blonde wig in the photos here is charming, I applaud the choice to use her own, brunette hair in the show and to arrange it to match her emotional situation – e.g., perky or lank. )  The program gives “special thanks” to freelance costume designer Stephen Hollenbeck, so I wonder if he helped build this show’s costumes.  However, he is also known for his tech week rehearsal treats, so maybe the “special thanks” are because he brought some of his signature goodies in for this cast?  Curiosity Girl wants to know.

Michael J. Lasley’s sound design includes some clever, just-right dock sounds and after-life sounds, but sometimes the singers are overpowered by the live orchestra, even though it is tucked out of sight under the stage.

Speaking of the vocalists, I confess that I was disappointed at first by Brandon Alstott’s (Billy Bigelow’s) tentative voice quality.  He won me back when he sang about becoming a father in a song called “Soliloquy” at the end of Act One, so then I wondered if he had warmed up enough before he went on stage in the first place.  In any case, his diction was consistently exquisite throughout the show and I was moved by the emotions that he conveyed.    I hope that actor/vocalist Brandon Alstott continues to work on his craft.  His skills are worth developing.  And even though I said earlier that I would not want to spend the rest of my life with Billy, I completely understand why both Julie and the carousel’s jealous owner, Mrs. Mullin (Carrie Neal), want to jump his bones.  Billy is definitely sexy. 

Theresa Koleszar gives Julie an endearing sweetness and authenticity in both her sung and spoken lines.  You think Julie is stupid for staying with Billy, but you also understand that she is not stupid in general, and you believe that she truly loves him.

I enjoyed the performances of the two leads, but I enjoyed the portrayals of the supporting characters even more.  Betsy A. Norton as Carrie and Collin Poynter as Enoch Snow, for example, have good, strong voices and are adorable together in their early courtship.  I loved their playful gestures as they sang together about what they would do “When the Children Are Asleep.”  Later, after they have become smug, they are not as adorable but they are even funnier. 

Laura Lockwood gives ocean spa owner and mother figure Nettie Fowler a lovely, powerful voice that convinces you that indeed, “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over!” and that “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” 

Paul Nicely is Jigger Craigin – the slimy, pure evil creep that leads Billy Bigelow farther and farther astray.  I confess that of all the men in this show, I was drawn most to Jigger – against my will – because he was just so fascinating.  Dangerous, but fascinating.

Here are Billy (Brandon Alstott, left) and Jigger (Paul Nicely, right) in a photo:

 Donovan E. Fouts as the Policeman and Dan Scharbrough as mill owner Mr. Bascomb are each uniquely convincing authority figures.  Freddie BasNight gives, yes, an amusing brightness to the role of the Starkeeper, and the angel (who must be named “Arminy” because that is the only unchecked name left in my program) is given a mysterious yet matter-of-fact quality by Amanda Brantley.

(Update: Two of my readers – Rebecca and someone who calls him/herself “A” – let me know in the comments box, below, that a) Arminy (Amanda Brantley) is actually the soloist in the song “Stonecutters Cut It on Stone” and b) the two angels are usually called Heavenly friend one and two, and in this production they are played by Jeremy Brimm and Tiffany Whisner.  That is definitely not in my program, but I am going to include it here anyway.  If we’re wrong and someone else can inform me further, please do!)

And daughter Louise’s graceful, life-story ballet as performed by Olivia Frieden (see photo, below) is a very special treat.

Box Office and Other Credits

“Carousel” continues on the Indianapolis Civic Theatre’s Mainstage Thursday-Sunday through Sunday, March 28, 2010.  (In other words, only one more weekend!)  To make reservations, please visit www.civictheatre.org or call the ticket office at 317-923-4597.

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel” is based on a play called “Liliom,” by Ferenc Molna’r, as adapted by Benjamin F. Glazer.  Robert J. Sorbera directed it for the Indianapolis Civic Theatre, with music direction by Brent E. Marty.

All photos above provided by the Indianapolis Civic Theatre.

The orchestra includes:  Orchestra manager – Al French.  Conductor – Shelbie L. Wahl.  Violins – Anne Heinrich and Chris Holmes.  Viola – Cindi Sifers.  Cello – Laura Cones and Andy Ross.  Woodwinds – Mary Bowman, Mike Bratcher, Susan Buckwalter, Lisa Halcomb, Dorothy McDonald, and Dave Paulson.  Trumpets – Jeff Anderson, Brian Hoover, Steve Pfoser.  French Horns – Larry Lemon, Dave Merkle, and Leslie Velez.  Trombone/tuba – Al French.  Bass – Valerie Kern.  Percussion – Angel Velez.  Piano – Scott Kane.

The production crew includes:  Technical director – Troy Trinkle.  Properties mistress (oh! nifty, old-fashioned lanterns for the clam bake!) – Janet Sutton.  Dance captain – Vickie Klosky.  Costume interns – Andrew Boyd, Adrienne Conces.  Costume assistants – Janet Hannon, Robin Uhrig.  Costume volunteers – Joan Callahan, Jenny Hilcz, Stephanie Kern, and Barbara Riordin.  Crew – Hannah Boswell, Michelle Boswell, Christopher Feltman, Deena Fogle, Josh Hurst, Joanne Johnson, Matthew Keller, Larry Northcutt, Kristen Purcell, Katie Rae, and Jessie Smith.

See you at the theatres!

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

Follow @IndyTheatre on Twitter.com, too.

6 thoughts on “Theatre Review: “Carousel” at Indy Civic”

  1. I believe “Arminy” is the character name of the female soloist in “Stonecutters Cut it on Stone”.

    (I have the cd… and someone says before the solo “You ought to ask Arminy! She’ll tell ya!”, and then she sings her little solo.)

  2. Thanks, Melissa! I admire your review of this show, too!

    Rebecca, thanks for the info about “Arminy.” Hmm. Well, then, I wonder what the angel’s name was? Or were there two angels hanging around with the Starkeeper? I was sort of flummoxed during that scene, I guess because I hadn’t been expecting it. I enjoyed it, though.

  3. Civic is on the west side of the city, not the east. Also, while I usually enjoy your reviews, I found your comments on the Enoch Sbow character to be somewhat off. I am not a huge fan of this show (in fact, it is one of my least favorites), but I love the Enoch character. If you look at it as a period peice, none of his behavior is out of the norm. He actions and ideas fall into line with what a man of his day would be expecting of a wife. In fact, one could say he is Carrie’s savior. Mill life in that period was very hard and dangerous. I think Enoch is a very lovable character and his smuggness at the end of act two is tempered by the complete lack of smuggness from Carrie. And in the end, he does bow to his wifes request to let Jr. stay. Also the angels are just known as Heavenly friend one and two and are played by Jeremy Brimm and Tiffany Whisner.

  4. Oh, no! (laughing out loud at myself) I must be more tired than I thought. Thanks, A, for alerting me to my directional mistake. I will correct it as soon as I finish typing this comment. I will also add the info about the Heavenly friends.

    Thanks, too, for taking the time to write and share your thoughts about the Enoch Snow character. I really appreciate your contribution to the conversation here.

    I am going to stand by my response to the character of Enoch Snow because that is what it is: my personal response. I can’t be “off” about that unless I am dishonest. However, I understand what you’re saying, too. I can see why you like him.

    And even though I didn’t like the character of Enoch Snow, I did like and admire the way the actor, Collin Poynter, portrayed him.

  5. I’m guessing Stephen Hollenbeck is given special thanks because many of the women’s costumes used in this production he built for Civic’s OKLAHOMA! a number of years ago. Or maybe he’s just a special fella…! 🙂

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