CAROUSEL - Director's Vision
By Rob Ruggiero
Carousel is considered by some to be Rodgers and Hammerstein's finest work. It is a potent story of the power of love and redemption, presented in a musical form never quite experienced before. Produced on the heels of the monumentally successful Oklahoma!, Rodgers and Hammerstein rose dramatically to the challenge, creating something unique and notably different than anything they had written before. Writer Ethan Mordden wrote: “What makes Carousel great is what finally implanted the musical play on Broadway as the form that all major musical works inevitably must take: one-of-a-kind stories that sing deeply in character and that dance to express what words and music cannot.” Although they introduced this genre with Oklahoma!, it was really Carousel that defined it.
This very “musical play” is based on Ferenc Molnár’s 1909 French play Lilliom, as adapted into English by Benjamin F. Glazer in 1921. In Carousel, the story and characters were re-imagined, placing them in a small fishing village in New England. My approach to telling this story began with anchoring our production in this very specific world, and exploring the authenticity and intimacy that exists beyond the epic emotional journey within. There is something about Carousel that moves me deeply, and that continues to inspire my desire to tell this story. The profound healing power of love, when encountered by the damaged souls of both Billy Bigelow, the carousel barker, and Julie Jordan, the quiet mill girl, has reached into the hearts of audiences for decades. The experience is profound: magical, entertaining, provocative and inspirational on many levels.
In collaboration with my very talented creative team, our Set Designer Michael Schweikardt has designed a physical production that straddles two worlds: the detailed realism of a small Maine fishing village, existing in non-realistic expressionistic textures. Cinematically weathered shingles floating on a glossy floor representing the sea tell us that this story is much bigger than the world it exists in. Our Costume Designer Alejo Vietti has designed period clothes with great specificity especially for our production. In this environment, story and music can seamlessly co-exist with dance. We felt there must be no boundaries, only the freedom to express on all levels.
This is a story that cannot be told in one generation or, perhaps, in one level of existence. Some stories find resolution in the next generation or the next. Carousel succeeds in its heartfelt articulation of humanity and is entirely accessible through its humor and truth. Growing up in New England, I feel a deep connection to these people and see the inspiration of placing the story near the ocean – historically a symbol of passion and healing. These people are hardworking and hearty folk, and very relatable in many ways. But it is the love story that is at the core of Carousel, articulated in raw and totally honest ways. It is not romanticized as is typical in many musicals, but is presented with the same integrity of the great plays of our time. The story of two damaged, lonely people trying to find their place in the world, and the power of the love that binds them. This story is profoundly moving, and our production is definitely focused around this central relationship and the final redemption of Billy Bigelow.
There were inherent challenges in producing a Carousel for Goodspeed. The obvious one would be how to articulate the carousel itself on that stage. Without giving away anything, I think we have come up with an original approach to the “Carousel Waltz” (the prologue) that both serves the story and the space. And is both abstract and also very real. I am looking forward to sharing our “carousel” with Goodspeed audiences. We have also revisited how to articulate the second act ballet. Both our approach to the prologue and the ballet honors the story, yet is original to our conception of the piece.
The casting of Billy Bigelow and Julie Jordan was a key factor in putting together this Carousel. I wanted actors who would bring a truthful and original interpretation to the production. Something that would speak to contemporary audiences. I am thrilled to have Broadway veterans James Snyder and Teal Wicks on board as Billy and Julie. They both bring unique and specific talents to these classic roles. And what a delight to have the funny and memorable Jenn Gambatese back once again after our last collaboration on Annie Get Your Gun. She brings delightfully honest humor to the role of Carrie Pipperidge alongside the very charming Jeff Kready as Enoch Snow, her very own “fisherman with a dream.” As our Nettie, the wonderfully earthy Anne Kanengeiser joins Tally Sessions as our Jigger Craigin, the manipulating sailor who influences Billy in all the wrong ways. We have put together another amazingly talented company of singers and dancers for this production.
Exploring the element of dance and how it contributes to the story is another very exciting aspect of doing Carousel. In true R&H form, Billy is introduced to his now 15 year-old daughter in a powerful second act ballet that is an iconic part of doing this show. In both the prologue and the ballet, movement and dance become the way in which audiences experience story. For this production I have partnered for the first time with the wonderfully inventive choreographer Parker Esse. Our production also introduces the young and talented Eloise Kropp as the young daughter of Billy and Julie, and the principal dancer in the ballet. It is through her journey, witnessed by Billy, that the play is able to move towards its inspiring and moving conclusion.
The continued support of Ted Chapin, and the R&H organization was instrumental as I searched for solutions that both served the story and honored the history of the show. As they did for Show Boat, I was offered access to rare archival materials, offered suggestions, advice and guidance, and most importantly trusted and encouraged my vision for this Carousel.
I continue to feel very fortunate to be able to collaborate with the level of talent here at Goodspeed. This extends not only to the entire company of twenty-two actors (plus two swings!), my exceptional team of designers and our choreographer, but the outstanding artisans in the Goodspeed scene shops and the top-notch staff who support everything we do. Together they bring a very special passion to our version of Carousel.
Please join us for this moving and powerful story.