Repertory’s ‘Carousel’: A bold and brave move on a classic

When one would try to imagine a staging of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s ‘Carousel’, it would probably look like an exact setup of a carnival – complete with dazzling lights, decorative booths and an exact carousel in the middle of it all.

But with Repertory’s comeback after the pandemic, they took a daring path by deconstructing and reinventing this broadway gem. This staging is anything but traditional – definitely not like the ‘Carousel’ our grandparents grew up with.

Repertory Philippines’ comeback with Carousel

Widely known as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s best work and hailed by Time Magazine as the greatest musical in the 20th century in 1999, Carousel follows the ill-fated love affair of a swaggering, carefree carnival barker named Billy Bigalow and a sweet and naive millworker named Julie Jordan, and their lives that ended in tragedy in the middle of an economic slump.

An ill-fated love affair.

Repertory Philippines’ Carousel was originally slated in early 2020 – with plans of a cast of 30, a big orchestra to bring life to its music with Gerard Salonga at the helm and to be held in a big theater. Yet pandemic happened and the grandeur of a musical was scratched.

But this even paved the way for Repertory director Toff De Venecia to give birth to this refreshing and reimagined version of Carousel.

It is held at the new CCP Tanghalang Ignacio Gimenez black box theater, a venue designed by Charles Yee along with Barbie Tan-Tiongco for this musical in a minimalist way – with limited lights, a box or two and a stool, a table and a pole that represents the carousel. It may be seen as a simple setup, way different that usual set designs, but definitely intentional and inventive. It lets the audience’s imagination run free.

A limited setup and venue yet intentional and inventive

The limitation of space and props also makes the staging more intimate, making everyone in the crowd feel like they’re part of the scene by bringing every dialogue and song closer to the audience with so much impact that it deeply penetrates our hearts.

Carousel of characters Photo by Axl Guinto/Teatro Pinas

Costume designer Jodinand Aguillon weaved in some Filipino touch to deconstructed clothing along with older pieces from the Repertory Philippines archives, mirroring the deconstructed approach of the musical. It may be a story that was created centuries ago but is recreated with our time and culture in mind even with the cast’s wardrobe.

This production doesn’t really need big, grand performances but only needs a choreographer such as Stephen Viñas to create formations and movements that vividly expresses every situation and emotions the characters were going through.

Impactful choreography

Let’s also not forget that even the musical direction was downsized to a two-piano score led by Ejay Yatco and accompanied by Joed Balsamo from a full orchestra, each song and melody is still enchanting and emotionally stirring.

This reinvented production of ‘Carousel’ also didn’t need a big number of actors. They only needed a highly talented cast that are passionate and committed to tell this story of love, despair, forgiveness and redemption.

I can’t think of anyone who was as fitting to take the role of Billy Bigalow than Gian Magdangal. He definitely brought the house down and owned the stage, whether in group performances or solo. His performance of his character’s signature song “Soliloquy” was remarkable as he really showed his versatility and prowess as an actor.

Karylle Tatlonghari’s portrayal as Julie Jordan is applaudable. We witnessed her sweetness and calmness in the face of love, and her despair and strength in the midst of pain of losing her most beloved.

Their exchange of lines for one of the anthem songs, “If I Loved You” was so poignant that you can’t help but sigh or shed a tear or two.

Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante and Lorenz Martinez was the perfect supporting pair as Carrie Pipperidge and Enoch Snow. Their chemistry, awkwardness and humor brought more life to the stage.

Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante and Lorenz Martinez. The perfect pair as Carrie and Enoch Snow.

Gia Gequinto as Louise used her strength as a ballet performer to her advantage. She expressed her emotions and struggles as Julie and Billy’s daughter with every move and twist, every form and flip. Her dance sequence with Steven Hotckiss and Julio Laforteza was confusing and stirring at the same time, making you feel the consequences and dilemma of growing up without a father figure.

Scene-stealer Gia Gequinto as Louise

Mia Bolaños as Nettie Fowler who was like a mother to the millworkers sang the iconic You’ll Never Walk Alone with Karylle with so much soul and fragility that you can’t help but be moved.

A stirring You’ll Never Walk Alone. Photo by Axl Guinto/TeatroPinas

All cast members played numerous roles but Roxy Aldiosa’s versatility as the obsessive carousel owner Mrs. Mullin and Starkeeper was brilliant that both her characters’ presence were strongly felt on stage.

Roxy Aldiosa as obsessive Mrs. Mullin

The passion and verve of the whole cast made the production effective and moving, especially in carrying different themes through the story with post-modern touches, expressing how these issues are still relevant until today.

Like how somewalk walks in the middle of a stage wearing a “My Body, My Choice” shirt in the middle of June is Bustin’ Out All Over performance to speak about feminism. And how De Venecia threaded on topics such as abuse, toxic masculinity and entrapment among others with sensitivity yet still awakening you to so many realities.

Trial by publicity

One notable scene was when the cast brought out their smartphones to capture Enoch taking a video of himself during his rocky relationship phase with Carrie, showing how prevalent it is these days to go through trial by publicity.

A moment that was hauntingly beautiful was the exchange between Julie and Louise on the possiblity of being hit hard and not being hurt at all. This speaks about abuse and co-dependency in a relationship but also resonates on how ‘Carousel’ affects us.

This production makes us feel what we could say is the good kind of pain.

Repertory’s Carousel. A new age of Philippine theater

Repertory and De Venecia’s bold and brave staging of Carousel strips the production off all the unnecessary details and reveals what theater is at its core – to tell stories that can challenge our minds and make us feel emotions we never knew existed, or emotions that we’re afraid to feel.

This modern day approach of this classic is crafted for the new generation of theatergoers but also a version that purists would eventually grow to love. Repertory’s Carousel is definitely a signal of the new age of Philippine theater that we can all look forward to.

You still have time to catch REP’s return to live Philippine theater with this absolutely timeless R&H masterpiece at the #CCPBlackBoxTheater, only until December 18. Tickets are available through TicketWorld: https://bit.ly/3rCm2fH and the CCP Box Office: 8832-3704 | 8832-1125 | salesandpromotions@culturalcenter.gov.ph

About the Author

Apple Gamboa is the Life Editor of SubSelfie.com.

She is also the Creative Team Lead of Maya, the leading digital financial services provider in the country.

She was previously a Media Relations Manager for Ogilvy Philippines and an interview and field producer for GMA News programs Quick Response Team and News to Go. She was also a producer of lifestyle TV shows and documentaries. Travelling and music are her passion, and taking risks is her reality medicine. Journalism 2010, UST. Read more of her articles here.

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