Arena Stage gives a performance worthy of Rodgers and
Hammerstein’s favorite musical as it explores themes of love, sin and
redemption in a new production of “Carousel.”
The play is set around the turn of the 20th century in a coastal
Maine town, where Julie Jordan (Betsy Morgan), a naïve millworker, falls in
love with Billy Bigelow (Nicholas Rodriguez), an arrogant carnival barker. Their
simple, whirlwind romance is appealing, yet also troubled — mostly because of
Billy’s deep personal flaws.
Billy causes most of his own problems: getting fired from his
job, hitting his wife, choosing the wrong friend and ultimately, much worse. On
paper, he doesn’t sound like the kind of guy an audience would root for. But
Rodriguez does a masterful job balancing both Billy’s pride and his charm. “Soliloquy,”
laying out Billy’s hopes and dreams for his future son (“my boy Bill”) or
daughter is a highlight of the night.
And while Billy’s dreams are pure, his choices are not. When a
hotheaded scheme to provide for his family goes bad, he gets one last chance to
make it up to his wife and daughter, Louise (Skye Mattox). The plot twist is
all the more compelling because this impulsive bully may not deserve the
opportunity he’s been given. And yet, the viewer inevitably hopes he makes the
most of it.
Along the way, there’s something for everyone to like: beautiful
choreography, a stunning ballet sequence, period costumes and classic songs
such as “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “If I Loved You.”
“Carousel” is suitable for teens and up, but discussions about
violence, some passionate kisses and an onstage death will rule out this show
for most younger viewers. The play runs through Dec. 24.