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EXTREMITIES OF HUMANITY: Opera House opens their season Wednesday with ‘Carousel’

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It’s one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s darkest musicals: “Carousel” opens Wed., Feb 24.

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It’s one of the Rodgers and Hammerstein’s darkest musicals, exploring themes with serious ramifications. Domestic violence, robbery, life as a criminal outcast isn’t just physically threatening but it imprints upon psyches and actions across society in larger ways. “Carousel” explores these notions, yet does it with a reverent score of music. Opera House Theatre Company will open their 2016 season this Wednesday with the 1945 stage musical and dance production.

HOST OF TALENT: Nygel Robinson, Justin Smith. Ashley W. Grantham, Kendra Goehring-Garrett, Amy Tucker-Morgan, and Lauren Mazzola.

HOST OF TALENT: Nygel Robinson, Justin Smith. Ashley W. Grantham, Kendra Goehring-Garrett, Amy Tucker-Morgan, and Lauren Mazzola.

Directed by Ray Kennedy, alongside his assistant director, Jason Aycock, it’s the first time either have led the helm on this show, which was inspired by Ferenc Molnár’s 1909 play “Liliom.” Rather than taking place in Budapest, Rodgers and Hammerstein moved the show stateside to the northern coast of New England. Set in Maine, the show follows carousel barker and petty criminal Billy Bigelow, who’s fallen in love with millworker Julie Jordan. Bigelow attempts a robbery to help score money for his growing family, but dies when it goes awry. However, 15 years later, from a parallel universe, he’s offered a second chance in making things right. A secondary plot involves the balanced relationship between local fisherman Enoch Snow and his millworking girlfriend Carrie Pipperidge; it provides a dichotomy of the hostility apparent in Bigelow and Jordan’s love affair.

Kennedy has brought back the fiery chemistry between Nygel Robinson and Kendra Goehring-Garrett as Billy and Julie. “After seeing them together in ‘Oklahoma!’ and ‘Kiss Me Kate,’ it is great to see them together again—in very different roles,” Kennedy says. “Nygel Robinson is a huge talent: beautiful, legit Broadway baritone and a commanding presence on stage. Kendra is a wonderful actress and singer who always finds interesting nuances in her character.”

Goehring-Garrett has learned how Julie approaches life and circumstances much differently than the actress would in real-life. Finding a balance to convey such honesty has been Goehring-Garrett’s main goal.

“Julie is strong willed, quiet, observant, and not like most girls of her time,” Goehring-Garrett explains. “She is young and a little naive. But a different naive from the other girls, if that makes any sense.”

Playing her daughter, Louise, will be Jessie Goie, a classically trained ballet dancer. Louise is the saving grace in Bigelow’s afterlife. “Billy teaches me that children change your whole way of thinking,” Robinson confirms. “When you know you have something that will rely on you for everything, you have to do what you have to do to support it. Billy starts out very cocky and selfish but when he learns about the baby, all of that changes.”

Ashley Grantham and Lauren Mazzola will be playing lovers Enoch and Carrie respectively, the latter of whom is also Julie’s best friend. Each couple shows extreme sides of humanity.

“[Enoch] knows two things above all else,” Grantham tells of his character. “He loves what he does and he loves Carrie Pipperidge. And all the rest … is talk.”

Jigger Craigin, Bigelow’s partner in crime, will be played by Justin Smith. Aycock has enjoyed watching this role develop into something more than a mere villain. “Somehow as the antagonist, he has such humor yet still pulls it in as a villain,” Aycock says. “It’s a great contrast to Nygel Robinson who is technically the hero, but really antihero. While having just as much energy as Justin, Nygel really rides a fine line of darkness while being our leading man.”

Kennedy has done a great deal of research into the show’s setting. He hasn’t only looked into fishing villages in Maine but also the people who make up the communities: townspeople, fishermen, carousel workers. “[I’ve also learned] how to produce a ‘clambake,’” he quips, “all new concepts.”

“Ray Kennedy’s decision to set the show in the late 1930s and early ’40s (rather than the 1870s), just as this country was emerging from the Great Depression, has brought this show into a whole new relatable era,” Mazzola explains.

With Terry Collins leading set design, Kennedy and Aycock chose to create the scenes as if they were being remembered in hindsight, like a dream or distant memory. “The main structure of a house will be there but it will kind of fade away on the edges,” Aycock explains. “We have a gazebo but it’s only focusing on where the memory happened in the gazebo, so that’s the only part of [it audiences] see.”

Light and sound will be handled by Dallas Lafon and John DeVeaux. According to Kennedy, he’s utilizing illumination heavily into dictating the show’s tone. “Dallas will have a gorgeous look to it and get to light the famous ballets: ‘Carousel Waltz,’ which opens the show and the ‘Louise Ballet’ at the end.”

A 14-piece orchestra, led by Lorene Walsh, will move the audience through the numbers, including “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over,” “If I Loved You,” “Soliloquy,” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” “‘If I Loved You’ is perhaps Rodgers and Hammerstein’s greatest song,” Kennedy boasts.

“Lorene has a great ear for these arrangements and can make even 60-year-old songs sound so beautiful,” Aycock says. “I’m excited to hear ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ with the full band and cast. I sang it when I was in a college show choir and still remember the first time we performed it with more than just the piano. It gives me chills.”

Though the music is beautiful and the storyline contains uplifting notes, at its core are themes much more dire. “Sadly, domestic abuse is still a factor in today’s society,” Aycock says. “That happens to be one of the underlying elements of the show. The dark path that has put Billy in such a bad place and the great character foil that Julie Jordan is with such light and love and how that affects him. It’s a dramatized look at how people are affected by dark choices.”

Feb. 24-28, Mar. 4-6, 8 p.m.; Sun. matinees, 3 p.m.
Thalian Hall • 310 Chestnut St.
Tickets: $24-$32

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