I’m not crying, you’re crying.
The Falmouth Theatre Guild presented an emotionally charged, high-end opening night production of “Carousel” last weekend, coming back in force after having to cancel its entire 2020-21 season due to the pandemic.
Premiering in 1945, “Carousel” is the second collaboration between the famous duo of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. The musical is similar to the pair’s first hit, “Oklahoma!,” with beautiful songs and elaborate dance numbers that effectively move the plot along, but “Carousel,” which deals more in real world problems, is the grittier of the two.
Set in seaside Maine, the story follows the relationship between volatile carnival barker Billy Bigelow (Beau Jackett) and stubborn millworker Julie Jordan (Sara Sneed). It also follows Julie’s best friend Carrie Pipperidge (Lizzie Raider), who chooses a more-traditional path in marrying the sturdy—if less exciting—fisherman Enoch Snow (Alex Valentine).
A carnival barker with a chip on his shoulder the size of Texas, Billy’s mannerisms speak of a fellow beaten down and pushed around by his station in life. Julie proclaims she’s never going to marry, evades questions, and is described by her friend Carrie as “deeper than a well.”
Neither character is looking to fall in love and, although they dance around it, neither wants to admit their feelings and appear vulnerable.
Mr. Jackett and Ms. Sneed are familiar performers on the Cape, having turned in top-notch performances in a variety of roles. They bring their own life experiences to their roles as star-crossed lovers and make a convincing pair.
Every character in this show has their moment to shine; each role is essential to the storyline.
Ms. Sneed is solid in the heartbreaking “What’s the Use of Wond’rin’,” when she’s called upon to tell Carrie she’s better off without Enoch after the pair squabble but advises the opposite instead.
Mr. Jackett is commanding when musing about his unborn child in act one’s “Soliloquy,” which starts off joyful at the idea of raising a son but then grows anxious at the thought of providing for a daughter, and again in act two with the defiant “The Highest Judge Of All.”
As Julie’s cousin Nettie Fowler, Bonnie Fairbanks does a beautiful job with what is the show’s most well-known and often-covered song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” She also leads the company in spirited performances of “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over,” and “A Real Nice Clambake.”
As the steady and reliable Enoch Snow and the wide-eyed Carrie, Mr. Valentine and Ms. Raider are charming in their duet “When The Children Are Asleep.”
Even villainous Jigger Craigin (Matthew Gould) takes the lead in act two’s “Stonecutters Cut It On Stone.”
Falmouth High School sophomore Merritt Wilcox is charming as Louise Bigelow; her dancing is lovely and impassioned.
Director Laura Garner, whose vision for the show included portraying imperfect but nevertheless sympathetic characters, has more than achieved that goal. Despite his many flaws, the audience is behind Billy as he tries and fails and then tries to redeem himself—who among us doesn’t need a second (or third) chance?
Due to the pandemic restrictions on orchestras, Ms. Garner chose to use recorded music for the show and while a live orchestra is always preferred, the recorded music in no way detracts from the performance. The leads all have such amazing voices that I heard a woman behind me wonder out loud if they were lip-synching to a full recording. They were not.
The set for the production is fantastic, at one moment a full-on carnival with large banners advertising attractions, ticket booths and rotating carousel horses for the show’s elaborate prologue, and just as quickly as it came, the set is gone and the stage is bare as Julie and Billy wonder out loud how it would be “If I Loved You.”
For much of the show a large screen projects blue skies, ocean waves and most importantly the starry sky that’s integral to act two. The stage also converts to a pier for a number of scenes with the townsfolk, fishermen and whalers.
In addition to Ms. Garner, principals behind the scene include choreographer Heather Shepley and musical director Nancy Sparklin. Lighting design is by Angela Mantel. Set design is by Peter D. Cook.
As a reviewer, there are lots of platitudes you can through at a show and a million ways of saying that something is good. In the case of this production it comes back again to Ms. Garner who took a well-known musical and, instead of resting on the merit of its memorable songs, delved deep into its compelling story.
“Carousel” will continue weekends through November 7. Showtimes are 7:30 PM on Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 PM on Sundays. Tickets can be purchased through the theater’s website or at the box office. As the positive reviews spread, I predict that they will become scarce.