This weekend, CMTS is presenting alums Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. The final performance is tomorrow at 2 pm in Roone. Bwog editor Alexandra Svokos caroused.
Before I get into a review of CMTS’s Carousel, I have to get one thing out of the way: to our modern Columbia sensibilities, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel is, well, problematic. The female protag, Julie Jordan, falls in love with Billy Bigelow, a carousel barker, because…idk, he felt her up on the ride and treats her/everyone like shit? She sacrifices her job (the patriarchy!) for the chance at being with him, and their marriage is filled with anger, sadness, joblessness. He never tries to get employed and hits her once and is generally taciturn and “hot-tempered.” It’s an uncomfortable watch.
Julie’s friends tell her to leave him but she never considers it, staying out of love, and the musical celebrates her for her loyalty and, at the end, celebrates him for…I’m still not really sure. Midway through (spoilers) Billy dies and gets a nice after-life “come back to Earth for one day” deal, where he hits his daughter and later whispers to his daughter and wife to be inspired by and believe a good song with a good message. Apparently this is redemptive.
Alright, now that that’s out of the way, let’s focus on CMTS’s production itself. This is an important distinction, because while the plot made me cringe and cock my head, the production made me giggle with delight and burn with pride for the talent at this school. Shelley Farmer, BC’14, and Ally Engelberg, BC’15, director and producer respectively, must be applauded for bringing together such an array of craft and ability. From the singers and dancers onstage to the set design and lights to the pit, this was a very well put together piece of work.
Special attention has to be given to choreographers Emma Chaves, CC’14, and Valentina Strokopytova, BC’16 for keeping Carousel from dipping into tired musical dance steps and clumsy routines. The big ensemble scenes, featuring an impressive dance ensemble, were a joy to watch, especially the opening prelude. In the second act a full ballet scene is staged, and the choreography was done in a way to keep it seamless with the musical, mixing technical moves with flamboyant gestures to tell an emotional story. Coya Pruden, GS’16, was especially impressive as the lead here. She was joined by James Lasky, CC’14, for a wonderful pas de deux which deservedly earned the biggest applause of the night.
The set, by design star Jiin Choi, CC’14 (what will the CU theater world do after you graduate???), made big use out of their materials for a sweetly magical stage. Without a budget as big as, say, The Varsity Show, Choi pulled together simple materials (fishing net, cardboard, a string of lights, that platform that shows up in every show) to create a beautiful, appropriately whimsical stage.
On the stage, the singers did their part with gusto and vigor. Kyra Bloom, BC’15, was strong throughout the show with a clear, pretty voice, kicking things off with a sweet double-header in “You’re a Queer One, Julie Jordan” and the adorable “Mister Snow.” She effectively served as something of a moral compass and comedic foil to Kyle McCormick’s, CC’14, Julie Jordan, bringing much needed lightness and sanity to the show. Bloom’s slightest gestures and expressions were enough to incite laughter and, for me at least, reflected our own reactions. Grant Gutierrez, CC’15, as her male counterpart, had a big booming voice (much to the sound tech’s downfall) and added to the humor.
In the lead roles, McCormick and Geoff Hahn, CC’15, worked the thankless roles of Julie and Billy. With such an underdeveloped early plot, many of their actions are unbelievable, though whether this is their fault or that of dear old R&H is to be debated. They certainly look the parts–doe-eyed McCormick and Disney prince Hahn make an enviable couple–but lacked the chemistry that would bring the plot closer to plausibility. Their voices are both lovely, obviously trained a step beyond college musicals, and Hahn gets to pull out some show-stopping power ballads with big old strong final notes–see: “Soliloquy.” But when a plot hinges on two people being so deeply in love, we need to really see it–not just light shades of it.
Still, the overall show is another success for Farmer. The girls’ chorus were sweet, with pretty voices fit for great harmonies, as in the reprise of “Mister Snow.” The boys were weaker but made up for what they lacked in vocals with enthusiasm. As always, opening night was impeded by technical sound problems (when will they learn to turn off their mics after stepping offstage?), but I imagine it’s since improved. The pit played the very musical-ly music lightly and consistently, with only a few notes off-tune or beat. The flutes (Ezra Schrage, Postbac Premed’14, on a very good first) pulled extra duty on the classic carnival carousel tunes.
Despite my misgivings on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s show itself, this production is marvelous and a serious delight. It’s a testament to the variety of talent we have around campus and the achievements we can make when we pull it all together.
Carousel via Shutterstock