My first experience of Carousel was falling asleep in a Broadway theater, decades ago, long before #MeToo. True, the classic American musical can feel a bit stuck in its pre-21st century timeframe. Now, with Repertory Philippines handing over its revival to first-time REP director Christopher (“Toff”) De Venecia, it seems they’ve conceded that the world can no longer look, or walk, backwards.
Toff admits he was probably not the logical choice to take the reins: He’s probably one who might have fallen asleep in an earlier Broadway production that emphasized Rodgers & Hammerstein’s buoyant numbers, lavish production (with a spinning carousel, no less), and “uplifting” ending. All that has been touched with something else at CCP's Black Box Theater: a grit, a sense of reality, a sense of going forward with some kind of new faith or wisdom. (It’s all there in the opening—the troupe huddled, facing outward amid smoke, breathing in, breathing out, the masks coming off—and in their final truncated walk-off as the lights die.)
Here are some reasons you may want to see how Carousel looks upon the post-post-world of 2022:
The intimacy of Tanghalang Ignacio Gimenez (Black Box) Theater puts the light on the stripped-down production and the acting. You’ve seen your parent’s Carousel—the bright lights, the hurly-burly of seaside life. So where’s the carousel? Just a striped pole and a nest of crescent-shaped clouds and bare lights nesting above the stage, suggesting a firmament. This is, firstly, a budget consideration. Repertory had to cancel much funding after the revival was originally announced in 2019, then the plug was rudely pulled by two and a half years of lockdown. Now, it makes sense to have a simple staging. You can lean into the acting, dancing, and singing.
The postmodern touches are sometimes jarring, and meant to be. In Act II, characters break out in an explosion of cellphones, selfies, and live posting as the 'spat' between Carrie and Enoch overflows into the seaside town.
Toff De Venecia was adamant that this Carousel would not ignore or tread upon the “landmines” of its original text—namely, the embedded cycles of abuse, toxic masculinity, “entrapment,” as he calls it, and co-dependency of the 1945 musical. One glaring example: when Julie tells her unhappy daughter Louise that “It’s possible for someone to hit you hard and it doesn’t hurt you.” Ouch. Especially in 2022. Instead of redacting those lines, director De Venecia highlights them with a spotlight. You can’t miss the difficulty of that moment, lifted from its original context.
The postmodern touches are sometimes jarring, and meant to be. In Act II, characters break out in an explosion of cellphones, selfies, and live posting as the “spat” between Carrie and Enoch overflows into the seaside town. (The goldfish bowl moment, Toff hints, may have been inspired by things like the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard abuse trial.) In other moments, a naughty, haunted sprite wanders through the production like Tinkerbell (it later turns out to be a future Louise), at one point wearing a T-shirt reading “MY BODY, MY RULES.” Overkill? Maybe. Calling up the commentary on a Brechtian level? Definitely.
This Carousel signals that Repertory Philippines, with its 85th season offering, is willing to bet on daring productions, reexamining the canon of Western theater. Who knows what 20th-century classic—with all its contextual problems—could be next? Does it spell big box office? Remains to be seen. But it’s challenging, something this post-pandemic local theater scene will have to grapple with, one way or another.
Gian Magdangal’s Billy Bigelow occupies his physical space onstage, holds it, lifts it higher at just the right moments. There’s febrile energy to his Billy, all sweat and toil trapped on earth, feeling damned, while gazing up at the firmament.
Karylle Tatlonghari’s Julie Jordan is a long-suffering match to Billy, a beacon of hope amid a jostling too-physical world, and a great voice. Their If I Loved You duet is, naturally, a standout; but she’s particularly affecting during the death scene.
Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante’s Carrie Pepperidge is a breath of life in a world that can only be held together by human values. And as Enoch Snow, Lorenz Martinez has just the right shading and comic timing. Even amid the casual patriarchy (Carrie blithely accepting her married name as “Mrs. Enoch Snow,” her identity literally wiped away), meta touches emerge: the scene of her and others crumbling up the written “reasons” for loving an abusive partner during the What’s the Use of Wond’rin? number.
The extended dance sequence of Ballet Philippines’ Gia Gequinto (“Louise”) in Act II is rich and emotive, and carries much of the musical’s themes.
Mia Bolaños as Nettie Fowler lifts the audience with her plaintive, solo rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone. The St. Scholastica College faculty member is a ringer: her voice breaks through, shining a light on the brittle staging design.
Instead of a barn-burning full orchestra, the dual piano score supplied by the Carousel production house is skeletally affecting, and so very different from a full orchestra staging: It’s like hearing the songs in a completely different way, and well-executed by pianists Ejay Yatco (Red Turnip’s 33 Variations, Sandbox Collective’s Himala) and Joed Balsamo.
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Repertory Philippines’ Carousel runs from Nov. 26-Dec. 18, 2022. Tickets are available at the CCP Box Office, TicketWorld, and SM Tickets. To save on service charges, you can also purchase tickets at the REP Box office. For more information contact [email protected] or call 0966-905-4013.