Don’t be afraid of the dark


Set on the Maine coast, with whaling ships, cotton mills, and clambakes as a backdrop, Carousel could hardly seem more American. However, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II took the plot of their 1945 musical (a follow-up to Oklahoma!) from Liliom, a 1909 drama set in Budapest by Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár. Nor was Molnár’s plot the standard upbeat fare of American musicals.

Court Theatre’s version of Carousel, directed by Charles Newell with music direction by Doug Peck, balances the light and dark in the story of the doomed love between carnival barker Billy Bigelow (Nicholas Belton) and mill girl Julie Jordan (Johanna McKenzie Miller).

John Culbert’s set—dominated by a rough-hewn backdrop that manages to suggest both waves and boardwalk and changes hues as the play's mood shifts from merry to menacing—meets at the border of land and sea, everyday life and escape to dreams. Carved into the shoreline's curves are moorings for the two parts of the Doug Peck's pared-down orchestra, and the conversation between the stage-right string quartet and the bass, piano, and woodwinds opposite adds to the balancing act.

During intermission, one audience member confessed to another, "I know all the words, and I'm trying not to sing along." Trying not to cry along is harder.

Carousel runs through Sunday, April 13.


Photo: Ernestine Jackson sings "June is Bustin' Out All Over."

Photo by Michael Brosilow.

March 10, 2008