note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
After a weak first act and the strains of a sour trumpet marring the opening of F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic American musical, “Carousel,” the show redeemed itself in the second act, ending on a more heavenly note. Hopefully, these and a few other kinks and minor characters will straighten out and produce a smooth ride when “Carousel” appears Aug.18-20 at NEXTDOOR Center for the Arts in Winchester.
F.U.D.G.E.’s artistic director-director-choreographer-scenic designer Joe DeMita deserves a huge gold star on his forehead for attempting to stage this monumental large production in a small space, with a 15-member cast, on a shoestring budget. His choreographic staging of a second act, lyrically lovely, balletic scene, depicting 15-year-old Louise’s loneliness, rejection and wayward lure of a carny barker and performers was mesmerizing in Watertown’s small space. Kimberly Fife as Louise is exquisite, her delicate, gossamer youthful presence a jarring image of innocence against an ugly, bizarre entourage. Although DeMita’s set is mostly barren to allow room for the ensemble’s dance numbers, it’s effective, enabling the audience to envision a horseless carousel, a rollicking seaside clambake, stunning fantasy scenes, and an interim pre-celestial stop before the pearly gates of heaven. A side panel that could perhaps enhance scenes with video projections is barely used.
The seven piece orchestra, led by Stephen Schapero on keyboard, is tucked above the stage, on an overhanging platform, which produces mixed results. During dialog interludes, the musicians provide background accompaniment that at times drowns out the actors. However, they’re effective during most musical numbers.
The story is classic - good girl meets bad boy, with disastrous results. Based on Ferenc (nee Neumann) Molnar’s 1909 drama, “Liliom,” “Carousel” is the sad story of Maine smalltown, pretty, mill worker, Julie Jordan, who falls in love with carny carousel barker Billy Bigelow and marries him. Contrastingly, Julie’s best friend, Carrie Pipperidge, meets and marries rising seafood king, Enoch Snow (T.J. Rufo). Out of work and sullen, a frustrated Billy drinks and beats Julie, never expressing his love for her. When he learns she’s pregnant, he hooks up with criminal sailor Jigger Craigin (Christian Masters), who convinces Billy to rob mill owner Mr. Bascomb (Mike Fay) at knifepoint, during the annual clambake’s treasure hunt. When Billy is caught, he commits suicide. In Act II, Billy is given one day to return to earth and redeem himself by doing one act of kindness - namely, to help troubled daughter Louise - and telepathically let Julie know he, indeed, loved her.
Talented Stephanie Schapero as Julie Jordan rises above the orchestra throughout the play. She is dewy-eyed, her lovely voice modulated and controlled when she flirts with Billy (nicely portrayed by Dave Carney), singing “If I Loved You”. Although he’s a bad ‘un, their duet has the fresh bloom of first love. By the way, Stephanie and Stephen Schapero are brother and sister, from Danvers.
However, the orchestra overpowers Patricia Peterson Jamison’s delicate soprano as Julie’s Cousin Nettie, during her solo and the ensemble’s intended rollicking, robust version of, “June is Bustin‘ Out All Over,” but it’s fine in her powerful solo, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. Also, delightful Holly Ann Marshall’s sweet soprano and soft speaking voice as Carrie Pipperidge is also overshadowed at times, but her personality illuminates the stage.
PJ Strachman’s lighting intensifies dramatic and light-hearted scenes, and Tina Cersosimo and Emily Monroe’s costumes of 1873 garb are fantastic.
BOX INFO: Two-act musical, by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, appeared with F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company through August 6, at the Arsenal Center for the Arts Black Box Theatre in Watertown; continues August 18-20 at NEXTDOOR Center for the Arts, 40 Cross St., Winchester, Thursday, Friday, at 8 p.m., Saturday, 2,8 p.m. Tickets, $20;seniors, students. $15. Call 781-956-1301 or visit www.FudgeTheatre.com.