Come Take a Ride on Utah Rep’s “Carousel”!

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By Daniel Brassard

Ladies and Gentleman, children of all ages, step right up for your chance to see the Utah Repertory Theater Company present Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel at the Historic Murray Theater with a live orchestra! Carousel will be showing from August 9th through the 24th with tickets available online at UtahRep.org/tickets or at the door and is located at 4961 South State Street in the city of Murray.

I was struck hard by the talent in this production. Is it possible to be hit hard and not have it hurt? Carousel delivers the answer, “yes”. The show has several large numbers, from “You’ll Never Walk Alone” to “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over” and I would be reaching to find issues with the dancing, the singing or the acting from this amazing group. I’ll be honest, when it comes to musicals put on by community theater, it is not uncommon to have a few standout moments and many missed opportunities. To my surprise, Carousel had very strong vocal talent, dancing that could sell its own tickets and acting that caused a patron that I overheard say, “I don’t know why I’m crying, I never cry.” Director Johnny Hebda amassed an amazing group of talent for this production.

The show touts the message that it is an uplifting story of love and redemption, but should be seen with an understanding that there are additional themes at work. I’d hate to give the story away, but since it’s been available for 60 plus years, I’ll highlight some topics that might warrant discussion before and/or after the show. Carousel does have instances of domestic violence, suicide and celestial petty theft (that last one is just a joke about star stealing.) There is a distinction attempted by the original text between hitting a person once and beating them, I sensed a missing after school special type teaching moment here. Additionally, I question whether redemption is truly found after death by returning to this world, smacking someone and then urging them to pay attention. Now I know that ghosts are bad at both redemption and pottery. (That’s right, I’m coming at the movie Ghost for poor pottery technique. Oh wait, I don’t think that Patrick Swayze was a ghost in the film at that point. Let’s just say that we are uncertain about the average ghost’s pottery skills.)

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The opening of the show had an amazing display of ribbon dancing. Unfortunately, it was hidden behind a crowd of actors and an oddly undecorated set. I’ve seen acrobatic ribbon dancing like this on TV recently on an American Talent type show and the actor who performed this (Brandon Hansen) is very talented.

And now the first negative thing that I must mention about the show. I didn’t understand why the set (set designer Allen Stout) was so sparse. And I really don’t understand why the amazing ribbon dancing wasn’t front and center. The stage construction allowed for noise at every step of the actors on stage. The cast was mixed with microphoned and unmiked actors that had speaking and singing roles. Sound Designer Andy Keele had trouble getting the sound right in this production. This unfortunately led to scenes with very uneven volumes. The live orchestra (Music Director Melissa Thorne) was a selling point on the advertisements, but was more distracting than it was enhancing for me. Although you can get recorded music at home, a live orchestra is harder to come by, so this may still be a selling point for most ticket holders. I personally think the show’s sound issues could be solved by using no mics and recorded music.

The cast was led by Amber Lee Roberts (as Julie Jordan) and Samuel Ross West (as Billy Bigelow). Samuel Ross West was really good at brooding, amazing at making hitting on girls at a carnival look awesome, and bad at being employed. Amber Lee Roberts paired a wonderful singing voice with a very emotional and committed performance. Mimi West (as Carrie Pipperidge) and Scott Cluff (as Mr. Snow) did such an amazing job by not only supporting the story’s main love story but also shining through as the better and certainly more stable couple. Kyle Allen (as Jigger Craigin) had the hairstyle of a villain and a farmer tan that showed he would be willing to do the hard work to ruin lives. Valaura Arnold (as Nettie Fowler, also played by Serena Kanig Benish) was a serious power vocal. Eve Speer (as Mrs. Mullin) was the worst boss to have and a great choice if you want an actor with stage presence.

The Ensemble sounded REALLY good together, and that is a rare thing in productions. Either a lot of work or magic happened to create the pleasant vocals and harmonies at work with this cast. The Ensemble was without an audible weak link (Ian Baker, Nathan Baker, Peter Johnson, Dave Pedersen, Kevin Pope, Ilizibith Summerhalder, and Tyrone Svedin) The dancers were incredible. You could buy a ticket and get your mony’s worth from the dancing alone (Elsa Hodder, Johnny Wilson, Jed Brown, Allison Butler, Catherine Drake, Matt Drake, Maddy Forsyth, Brandon “the Bandon” Hansen, Luke Johnson, Peter Johnson, and Michelle Moore). Kudos to choreographer William Cooper Howell.

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I took my eight-year-old niece and she was fascinated by it all, but especially loved the dancing. Though the show is long (over two hours), she wasn’t bored or antsy. She was, however, a little frightened in the robbery scene (sorry for the spoiler) and turned her head. So, I would recommend this show for any musical theater-loving child, aged perhaps nine and older.

To summarize, seeing this show is a great idea based on the powerful vocals, dancing and dramatic performances. The set and stage could have seen better construction and the sound tech could have used more/or less microphones, but that is more reason for folks to buy tickets and further this company’s extreme potential. Great show.

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