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CCM Approaches “Carousel” with Joy

Ben Biggers and Samantha Pollino, the leads in CCM's upcoming "Carousel"

Ben Biggers and Samantha Pollino, the leads in CCM’s upcoming “Carousel”

Sneak Peak by Teddy Gumbleton of Carousel: CCM Musical Theatre

Since it first opened on Broadway in April of 1945, the musical Carousel, with music by Richard Rodgers and lyric and book by Oscar Hammerstein, has been widely regarded as a masterpiece. Carousel tells the story of Billy Bigelow, a barker for a carousel, who falls in love and marries a mill worker, Julie Jordan. Their marriage quickly sours due to Billy’s frustrations over their poverty, and he sometimes hits Julie in his anger. However, when he discovers that Julie is pregnant, Billy vows to do whatever it takes to provide for his family, with tragic consequences for all. Featuring a glorious score, extended dramatic scenes and lengthy dance sequences, Carousel more than earns its magnificent reputation.

It comes as no surprise that a piece of this pedigree would be an attractive and exciting undertaking for CCM’s Musical Theatre program, who will present Carousel as part of their 2015/2016 season. The production will be directed and choreographed by CCM faculty member and resident choreographer, Diane Lala. Lala has been with CCM for over 25 years and choreographed their last production of Carousel in 1992. When determining the 2015/2016 season, Lala says the faculty takes careful consideration of the student’s four year plan, making sure to expose them to a wide range of pieces and styles. This season alone explores bluegrass with Big River, rock with American Idiot, and pop with Lysistrata Jones, with Carousel providing the classical musical theatre.

And what an education students will receive. Carousel is a notoriously difficult show to perform, requiring a cast with tremendous dance, music, and acting abilities. Some roles are so demanding that it is standard for most professional productions to hire ballet dancers and opera singers to fill them. However, in CCM’s production, the entire cast of 30 plus is made up of musical theatre majors. CCM’s musical theatre program provides students with an extensive education and Lala is confident they are more than capable to handle the demands of the piece.

But beyond being merely up for the challenge, Lala says that the students are overjoyed to work on piece. “The students embrace wholeheartedly what they are doing and are totally invested in what they are doing”. And this enthusiasm for Carousel does not end with the students. Regarding the creative team, Lala says that “working on Carousel is such a joy. Everyone knows and loves it and is excited to have the opportunity to bring it to the stage.” Lala continued by saying that the goal of everyone on team is to honor the work and perform it as Rodgers and Hammerstein intended it.

In addition to Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s music and dialogue, an essential component of Carousel is the dancing. Much of the plot and character development is established through the choreography, most notable in the opening “The Carousel Waltz” and the Second Act Ballet, in which we are introduced to Billy and Julie’s daughter, Louise. “We learn more about Louise in this one ballet than we could in 50 pages of dialogue,” exudes Lala. The original production was choreographed by legendary choreographer Agnes de Mille, whose style was based in classical ballet with significant modern influence. “What sets her work apart, especially in her day, was her grasp of character,” say Lala. “Acting was integral to the dance. Her dance is character driven.” Lala will be integrating some of de Mille’s original work, while also developing her own choreography, saying “My goal is to honor de Mille while infusing my own choreography.”

Carousel opens on Oct 29 and runs through Nov. 1 at the Corbett Auditorium at the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music.