`Carousel' to open at dinner theater

Rodgers & Hammerstein musical of 1945 blends romance and darkness

Howard Live

September 06, 2001|By Arthur Laupus | Arthur Laupus,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

John Raitt, blues singer Bonnie Raitt's father, played the role in the original stage version in the 1940s. Frank Sinatra was cast and then replaced by Gordon MacRae in the film version in the 1950s, and Robert Goulet toured on stage in the role in the 1970s.

Now Russell Sunday inherits the mantle of Billy Bigelow, the sideshow barker and schemer, in Rodgers' and Hammerstein's romantic musical Carousel which opens at Toby's Dinner Theatre tomorrow and continues through Nov. 18.

Sunday, who appeared as young Joe Hardy in Toby's most recent production, Damn Yankees, assumes the role of the hopeless dreamer who captures the heart of Julie Jordan, played by Siobhan Kolker.

Kolker, a newcomer to Toby's, has sung several operatic roles in the Baltimore area. The secondary leads, Carrie Pipperidge and Enoch Snow, are portrayed by Deborah Bonacorsi and veteran Toby's performer John Scheeler.

Based on the play Liliom, by Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnar, Carousel has been transplanted by Rodgers and Hammerstein from Budapest to the New England coast where Billy falls in love with Julie, commits a robbery, is killed and returns to earth some years later to attend his daughter's graduation. Sensing his daughter's loneliness, he fears that she may incur the same troubles that led him astray.

After offering her some sage advice, which she reluctantly accepts, he returns to heaven a happier man, at least according to the Rodgers and Hammerstein version of the story.

Director Toby Orenstein will transform the intimate theatre-in-the-round into the coast of Maine with huge, colorful murals along with a lighthouse depicting the rocky New England coast. Several years ago, she purchased the hand-made costumes and set pieces from a national touring company's production. She has assembled a cast of more than 25 to play the various roles of carousel barkers, trapeze artists, acrobats, heavenly angels, sailors, fishermen, townspeople, stilt walkers, jugglers and strongmen.

Supporting roles are played by Adrienne Athanas, Bill Toscano, Daniel McDonald, Terry Sweeny and perennial favorite David James, winner of the prestigious Helen Hayes Award for his portrayal of Scarecrow in Toby's production of The Wizard of Oz.

The musical director of Carousel is Greg Knauf, and the costumier is Norah Shaw. Jason Wilson designed the sound, and Lynne Joslyn the lighting. Dave Eske is the scenic designer.

Those attending Toby's production of Carousel can expect to see the full ballet sequence, which most productions often omit but which Orenstein considers an integral part of the story. "Some directors will cut the ballet because they're afraid audiences won't like it," said Orenstein, "We don't give audiences enough credit.

"Ballet is an art form just like theatre, opera and musical concerts. It communicates in its own unique way. And to cut the ballet would diminish the impact of the story."

The ballet features 16 dancers choreographed by Toby's in-house choreographer, Helen Hayes Award nominee Ilona Kessell. The featured dancer is River Hill High School junior Lauren Sambataro who also plays the role of Louise. Orenstein predicts that the ballet sequence will be one of the highlights of the show.

Carousel was Rodgers' and Hammerstein's second musical, following Oklahoma. Produced in 1945, Carousel was not predicted to be a success because of the darkness of its theme. However, it opened to critical acclaim and ran for more than 800 performances. It also featured the popular film actress Celeste Holm.

Since then, it has been a perennial favorite of regional theatres across the country and features some of Rodgers' and Hammerstein's most popular songs, including The Carousel Waltz, June Is Bustin' Out All Over, A Real Nice Clambake, Blow High Blow Low, If I Loved You and one of the most beloved musical theater songs, You'll Never Walk Alone. One of the most difficult numbers in the show, Soliloquy, sung by Billy, demands as much from the actor as it does from the singer.

When asked why Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals are still popular with today's audiences, Orenstein replied, "You've got to remember that they were the first to integrate music, dance and drama in the musical theater form. Before the groundbreaking Oklahoma, it was `Let's sing just for the sake of singing' or `Let's dance because we need a dance number to break up the drama.' Often a performer would just step into a spotlight, belt out a song and then go on with the drama and the story.

"There was no real connection. Oklahoma integrated all these elements into the storytelling, and Carousel continued the trend. I often have to remind my cast in rehearsal that we're telling a story no matter what we're doing."

Certainly Carousel is a fine example of using music, dance and drama to tell a timeless tale of love and perseverance.

The musical "Carousel" will be performed from tomorrow through Nov. 18. Doors open at 5 p.m. Sunday and 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Matinees: Doors open at 10:30 a.m. Sunday and Wednesday. Reservations are required. Information or reservations: 410- 995-1969 or 800-888-6297.

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