Reimagining a brutal love story for the age of #MeToo

Richard Watts

WAAPA’s full scale, mid-year musical is a gritty new production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, Carousel.
Reimagining a brutal love story for the age of #MeToo

Photo credit: Kathy Wheatley.

Domestic violence, suicide and ghostly encounters with the dead aren’t the usual staples of musical theatre, which makes the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, Carousel all the more unique.

Dubbed ‘the Best Musical of the 20th Century’ by Time Magazine, this affecting and unsettling work about a mill girl’s unswerving love for the carnival barker who abuses her is being reimagined by award-winning theatre director Jason Langley, in a new production starring the 2nd and 3rd Year Musical Theatre students of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA).

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‘We’re working towards creating a Carousel for a new generation, one that’s a little darker, a little edgier and a little more relevant to our current social climate of #metoo,’ explains Langley, whose previous productions include Dusty – The Musical and the Gertrude Stein musical Loving Repeating.

With its gritty subject matter, including explorations of poverty and crime and domestic violence (though the character of Billy Bigelow insists he does not beat his wife. ‘I wouldn’t beat a little thing like that – I hit her.’), as well as a ghostly visit by a dead father to the daughter he never knew in life, there’s much in Carousel that’s ripe for contemporary exploration.

Langley, who returns to WAAPA after previously directing sold-out seasons of Legally Blonde (2015) and 42nd Street (2017) at the Academy, said he and visiting guest choreographer Cameron Mitchell (Big Fish, Calamity Jane) are enjoying working with WAAPA’s latest crop of triple threat performers.

‘We’re loving the enthusiasm and talent of the WAAPA cast who are diving headfirst into reimagining this brutal love story,’ he said.

In keeping with WAAPA’s focus on providing its students with practical learning experiences as well as the best in vocational training led by industry professionals, an army of students are working in the orchestra pit and behind the scenes, as well as starring in Carousel.

Classical, jazz and contemporary student musicians will comprise the orchestra, under the musical direction of Head of Music Theatre, David King, and a talented team of Costume and Props & Scenery students are assisting multi-award-winning lighting designer Trudy Dalgleish (The Wizard of Oz, Hairspray, Georgy Girl – The Seekers Musical) and set designer Tyler Hill (a 2015 WAAPA graduate turned Resident Artist with Black Swan State Theatre Company).

Backstage, some of WAAPA’s best Sound, Lighting and Stage Management students will ensure the production’s technical aspects run smoothly.

Langley has updated Carousel from its traditional 1870s setting to 1969, in the hope that the musical’s depiction of love ‘in all its messy dysfunction’ will resonate with contemporary audiences, but what won’t change is the inclusion of some of the most memorable songs in the history of music theatre, including ‘If I Loved You’, ‘June is Bustin’ Out All Over’ and ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.

With a cast of some 40 performers, Carousel is sure to rival any other big stage musical seen in Western Australia this year, and with tickets at a fraction of the price of the commercial sector, it also represents excellent value for money. But value aside, what Langley is really focused on are the performers – the next generation of Australia’s musical theatre stars.

‘We certainly have some world-class voices singing some of musical theatre’s most famous songs, so the audience is in for a real treat,’ he concluded.

Carousel runs from 16-23 June at the Regal Theatre, Subiaco. Visit www.waapa.ecu.edu.au for details or go to premier.ticketek.com.au for bookings.

About the author

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's Performing Arts Editor and Team Leader, Editorial; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on community radio station Three Triple R.

The founder of the Emerging Writers' Festival, Richard currently serves on the board of literary journal Going Down Swinging and on the Committee of Management for La Mama Theatre. He is a former member of the Green Room Awards Independent Theatre panel, a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and in 2017 was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend.

Follow Richard on Twitter: @richardthewatts

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