Below is a review of Carousel, REP’s new musical which opened on November 26 and will run until December 18, 2022. The opinions expressed within the content are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the website or its affiliates.

Well… Let’s just say that choices were made. It represents courage and a certain bravery in trying new things. Whether it paid off or not, though, is a different story altogether.

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel is one of their most polarizing works. While it has been the subject of many debates when it comes to ideas of morality and redemption, it has undeniably been the source of some of the most enduring scores in musical theatre history. Songs such as “If I Loved You” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” have been etched into the halls of musical theatre history.

It comes as no surprise therefore, that Repertory Philippines, the grand dame of Philippine Musical Theatre has decided to mark their return onstage with this iconic musical. With all the weight of Repertory Philippines’ history and legacy bearing down upon this show as we emerge from the pandemic, it has taken on much greater significance.

The plot of Carousel is not a simple one, the story follows Billy Bigelow (Gian Magdangal), a former carousel barker turned ne’er-do-well, who woos, marries, and eventually abuses Julie Jordan (Karylle Tatlonghari), a sweet (albeit naive) millworker. Their journey takes them from the passionate throes of initial infatuation to the devastating conceit of the show: Billy loves Julie, but struggles with going against his free-spirited nature, manifested in his decision to settle down and marry. In the process, he sinks into despair at not being able to hold down a job to provide for his wife, which leads him to lash out and physically hurt his wife.

There’s also Julie’s best friend, Carrie Pepperidge (Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante), and Carrie’s fiancé Enoch Snow (Loy Martinez) whose healthy and wholesome relationship serves as a foil for Billy and Julie’s toxic relationship. Rounding off the cast are Julie’s cousin Nettie (Mia Bolanos), who takes them in and serves as a figure of support and comfort for Julie, and Jigger (Noel Rayos) who leads Billy astray, with the gravest of consequences.

Attention must be paid to the decision to play these characters with a heightened degree of sensitivity and nuance. There is a pronounced feeling of authenticity and an earthy patina in the way actors interacted with each other onstage. The only problem is, because of the choice of staging it as an Island Stage, the audience loses much of this because of the blocking. The audience is often treated to such deep, sumptuous lines accompanied by glorious views of the backs of actors heads. 

This stripped-down Carousel is not for everyone, unfortunately. While the creative team must be given credit for the attempt to modernize an otherwise inert show from another time, it suffers from being too over-wrought at the expense of the actors and being excessively preachy to the point of tedium. The highly political slogan “My Body, My Choice” makes an on-the-nose appearance during the musical’s charm song “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over”, as the dancers freeze in a scarlet tableau of sexual abuse – which strikes the author as hitting the nail too squarely on its head. One struggles to think of a justification for it, and asks the question: Is this really the time and place for this? Sometimes a song is just that: a jubilant celebration of summertime, with the prospect of a delicious clambake. 

The added 11 o’clock ballet sequence is beautiful, well choreographed and brilliantly performed, however, it felt disconnected from the show thematically and tonally and stops the show dead in its tracks in the middle of the second act.

Bradshaw-Volante and Martinez gave the show a much-needed boost whenever they would cross the stage. It is in their earnest characters where shades of the original R&H Carousel shine through. With humor and sincerity as their currency, they served to engage the audience and keep things from getting thoroughly dark and borderline depressing. Magdangal and Tatlonghari played their roles well, although their performances in the first act sometimes came across like they were anticipating their tragic fates in the second. What is undeniable though, is Magdangal’s soaring vocals, and Tatlonghari’s serene and regal presence onstage. The support cast of dancers and singers turned out great performances and must be robustly acknowledged.

In the end, in avoiding stepping on too many eggshells, it often felt that there were two stories being told at the same time: One, “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel”, and the other “Explaining Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel”. 

And I will leave it at that.

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