When you think of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, you probably think of a musical with country porches and county fairs and great songs. But being declared “the greatest musical of the 20th century” (by Time magazine) doesn’t necessarily mean you pass the sniff test in 2022.
With Repertory Philippines’ first return to the live stage after the pandemic, they present Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic post-war musical, but in a very new light. Post-modern. Woke, you could say.
At the same time, the production — which was in preparation in early 2020, just before the two-and-a-half-year COVID blip took place — has had to grapple with what everyone’s gone through. Isolation and mortality. Soul-searching.
“With this revival, which is very different from the 2020 version, it’s a Carousel that we know, but also a Carousel that we don’t, and maybe we can present a vision for theater in terms of how it’s created post-pandemic,” says first-time Rep director Christopher (“Toff”) De Venecia, known for staging musicals with The Sandbox Collective, but also as a congressman for the 4th District of Pangasinan and as author of the Republic Act 11904 or the Philippine Creative Industries Development Act, meant to bolster the country’s art infrastructure after a punishing pandemic. “I mean, we’re shut for two and a half years, right? So you don’t go back to your thing with ‘business as usual.’”
In a way, it’s an opportunity to draw things up from scratch. As presented at Tanghalang Ignacio Gimenez, also know as the CCP Black Box Theater, and opening Nov. 26, “This is a musical that normally you would see in a proscenium stage with set pieces and costumes and choreography — all of these ingredients that create this alchemy of a romantic Carousel. All of those bells and whistles now? Gone,” he says. In its place, a promise of Brutalist sets, a smaller cast, and perhaps a more reflective piece than Carousel audiences may be used to.
Together with a superb cast, I think Carousel will prove to be a fitting and triumphant return to the stage for Repertory Philippines.
“Basically, we’re returning to the text and the space and infusing it with intention,” Toff says at a press preview event at Makati Garden Club. “We take inspiration from Brecht, and his empty space, and trust that if you infuse something with intention and energy, something will happen.”
One thing that has not aged well in Carousel is its almost fatalistic view of domestic abuse and violence. The casual way it’s treated in the original text is as dissonant to modern ears as the Phil Spector-penned ’60s pop hit, He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss) sung by The Crystals.
“There’s this real fault in the text, which I didn’t realize was faulty until revisiting it again decades later,” the director says. “If you see previous stagings of this show, there’s always this harkening to romanticism and grandiosity, which glosses over all of these things that you can no longer ignore at this point. And of course, where we are now, there are adjustments in terms of our views on violence, misogyny.” So to take on Carousel in 2022, “I felt the necessity to be able to address all of these landmines that are sort of in the text of the show.”
Since Toff has declared the text to be “sacred,” it will be interesting to see how this aspect of Carousel will be altered or updated.
What has not changed is the quality of the songs, in what Toff calls “the closest thing to an operetta” that Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II created. We got a preview of two numbers from stellar lead cast members Gian Magdangal (playing Billy) and singer, actor and OPM royalty Karylle Tatlonghari (as Julie), who are both joining a Rep production for the first time and gave us a stirring If I Loved You; and Rep stalwarts Loy Martinez (Enoch) and Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante (Carrie), who did an upbeat When the Children Are Asleep.
Repertory Philippines artistic director Liesl Batucan-Del Rosario, growing emotional as she announced a return to the stage this November, praised the cast and director as “the crème de la crème of Philippine theater in directing and acting, and Repertory Philippines is blessed to have all of you.” She added, “Toff is brilliant, and his brilliance is exceeded only by his heart and his generous, overflowing spirit of creativity and love.”
“We are all thrilled with how Toff has executed his bold, brave vision of Carousel for the current generation of theatergoers,” adds Rep president and CEO Mindy Perez Rubio. “Together with a superb cast, I think Carousel will prove to be a fitting and triumphant return to the stage for Repertory Philippines.”
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With songs like June is Bustin’ Out All Over and You’ll Never Walk Alone, and a message about the transcendence of hope and love, this Broadway landmark is sure to be a hit, all over again.
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Catch Carousel from Nov. 26 to Dec. 18 at the CCP Tanghalang Ignacio Gimenez.
Tickets are available through the CCP Box Office, TicketWorld and SM Tickets. Ticket prices are P3,000 for Rows 1 and 2, P2,500 for Row 3, P2,000 for Row 4, P1,500 for Row 5, and P1,000 for Row 6.
Log on to www.repertoryphilippines.ph, like and follow Repertory Philippines on Facebook and Instagram. Educators and school representatives who are interested in the show can email [email protected].