Seventy years (less a day or two) after Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s Carousel opened on Broadway, Creston’s Footlighters Theatre Society will conclude its 20th season by presenting the popular musical at Prince Charles Theatre.
Featuring a pair of romances and a string of familiar numbers, the production directed by Frank Goodsir, who penned and directed December’s sold-out Cinderella, promises to be another hit for the community theatre group.
“It’s a show whose passion grabs you, I would say,” said music director Simone Wiebe. “It’s the kind of music that the more you listen to it, the more you love it.”
It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. The Footlighters schedule originally called for Beauty and the Beast but a decision was made late in 2014 to delay its presentation until 2017. In its place, the second Rodgers and Hammerstein collaboration, a follow-up to the pair’s spectacular success of Oklahoma! two years earlier, was scheduled. (Footlighters has previously produced the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals The King and I, South Pacific and The Sound of Music.)
Wiebe, a music teacher who has had starring roles in past productions, had her work cut out for her in theCarousel rehearsals. She had to co-ordinate the efforts of lead and secondary characters, a chorus and an eight-member band (two flutes, two trumpets, euphonium, tuba, trombone and piano). The cast alone has 30 singers.
The musical pairs carnival barker Billy Bigelow (played by assistant director Brian Lawrence) and millworker Julie Jordan (Brittney Boehmer), and another millworker, Carrie Pipperidge (Jennifer Adams), and fisherman Enoch Snow (Jesse Morton) have plenty of stage time.
But Carousel is not a light and fluffy musical, Wiebe said.
“It covers some pretty heavy subjects — domestic abuse, suicide, overcoming one’s heritage.”
“Carousel is really about breaking negative cycles,” Lawrence said. “Redemption is a huge theme.”
A big theme needs more than light music to accompany it.
“It’s a hard score with some crazy signatures,” Wiebe said. “And some numbers are pantomimed to the music, which is kind of new to our group.”
In an effort to keep the audience focused on the characters and story, the set has been kept deliberately simple, with an attempt to present the idea of locations and settings. There are no backdrops or walls and no pieces permanently onstage.
Simplicity does not mean lack of effort, though. Great effort was made to acquire authentic carousel horses, even though they are on stage for only a few minutes.
“They aren’t on for long but they are vital to set the story,” Wiebe said.
Lawrence said the chorus includes 10 children.
“That’s the fun of community theatre,” he said. “Choruses can be enlarged to give more people the opportunity to be involved.”
Wiebe’s sister, Brittany Boehmer, will be a new face on the Creston theatre scene.
“And Paula Carpenter has never had a big part before,” Wiebe said. “It’s nice to see people thinking, ‘Hey, I can do that!’ “
Wiebe said the musical numbers that stand out for her are “Blow High, Blow Low”, sung by a group of sailors, and “June Is Busting Out All Over”.
“But they are all good,” she said.
“And I’m always humming ‘When the Children Are Asleep’ after hearing Jesse and Jennifer sing it,” said Lawrence.
As well, Carousel includes “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, “If I Loved You” — considered by musical theatre buffs to be one of the best integrations of dialogue, music and lyrics — and “Soliloquy”, a lengthy introspective piece.
“Carousel is different from what you usually expect from Rodgers and Hammerstein,” Lawrence said. “The music isn’t as light and simple as the pieces in The Sound of Music, for instance. But there is wonderful humour to balance the serious dramatic sequences. It has given our cast a chance to do something different and unusual.”
Since the first rehearsal in January, three rehearsals a week have kept the volunteer performers busy. Smaller side rehearsals in members’ homes have been common and the backstage crew has put in countless hours to make the production beautiful and functional.
“It’s really nice to have a mixture of experienced people and really new performers who are willing to step outside their comfort zone,” said Lawrence.
Carousel, the final production of Footlighters’ 20th season, runs at 7:30 p.m. April 16-18 (doors open at 7) at Prince Charles Theatre. Tickets are available at Kingfisher Used Books, Black Bear Books and Creative Fix.