NORMAN — Hope and redemption don’t come without a cost in the University of Oklahoma Weitzenhoffer School of Musical Theatre’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel,” coming in early November.
Only Rodgers and Hammerstein’s second musical after “Oklahoma!,” “Carousel” brings both dark undertones and beautiful, classic music to the stage, said director Shawn Churchman.
“For people that know musical theater, the show itself is rather controversial because it is considered a classic in music theater yet it is about a man that abuses his wife,” Churchman said.
“Rodgers and Hammerstein don’t make a hero out of this man and they never ask you to forgive him, but it is a story about how a person can redeem themselves and seek redemption. Our goal in this show is to humanize this story for the audience, to understand that people aren’t just black and white. They don’t have to forgive him — there’s even a line about this in the show — but it does make it all right to understand and to empathize with someone’s plight.”
Set in a Maine coastal village toward the end of the 19th century, the story follows the romance between swaggering, carefree carnival barker, Billy Bigelow, and the naive millworker, Julie Jordan. After the two marry, Billy loses his job and learns Julie is pregnant. In desperation, Billy turns to crime to provide for his growing family. Billy, caught in the act and certain to face prison, kills himself.
Fifteen years later, Billy is allowed to return to earth for one day and encounters the daughter he never knew. Billy finds his daughter is a lonely, friendless teenager, haunted by her father’s reputation. Out of love, Billy then sets about instilling a sense of hope and dignity for his child and her mother.
“Ultimately it’s about redemption and our protagonist really trying to find redemption on earth and in the after life,” Churchman said.
Brooke Lacy, musical theater senior playing Julie Jordan, said performing her role will be a rewarding challenge. Julie’s character is a compassionate, forgiving woman who loves Billy but isn’t naive about the consequences of others’ actions.
“There’s good in everybody but that doesn’t excuse abuse in any way. ... I hope audiences get that Julie knows it’s wrong and she understands that it’s not okay,” Lacy said.
Churchman said the relatively small cast of 19 OU students and three local children narrate the story with the iconic Broadway favorites like “If I Loved You,” ‘June is Bustin’ Out All Over,” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
“For many people that love Rodgers and Hammerstein, they tend to think that this is the most beautiful score, the most beautiful music that Richard Rodgers ever wrote,” Churchman said. “And I tend to agree with them. It’s probably their best score. He said many times it was his favorite score.”
OU’s adaptation of the big, classical musical into the smaller theater space of the Weitzenhoffer Theatre is going to provide for an intimate setting, Churchman said.
“This is going to be a very, very different interpretation for this show,” he said. “In the sense that we're going to be singing and dancing and acting this very dramatic story right in the laps of the audience.”
Churchman said they had to be creative with set design and choreography to effectively use the smaller-size of the theater. The hopeful result, he said, is that the audience will feel immersed in the performance and in Maine itself.
“We have sand and rocks, we always want them to get an idea that there’s always the ocean within a few yards,” he said, referring to set pieces including a lighthouse, quintessential Maine architecture and a dock.
Lacy said the performance will provide over two hours of relatable entertainment.
The University of Oklahoma Weitzenhoffer School of Musical Theatre presents Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel,” a touching story of hope and redemption, 8 p.m. Nov. 1-2, 7-9 and 3 p.m. Nov. 2-3, 9-10 at the Weitzenhoffer Theatre in the Fine Arts Center, 563 Elm Ave.
Tickets are $30 for adults, $25 for seniors, military and OU faculty and staff, and $15 for OU student with ID. Purchase tickets from the OU Fine Arts Box Office by calling 405-325-4101, located in the Catlett Music Center, 500 W Boyd St. Box office hours are 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and open one hour prior to performance at venue.