Some 67 years after Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel first opened at Broadway's Majestic Theatre, director Paula Y. Flatt will unveil her vision for the show-which was named by Time magazine in 1999 as the best musical of the 20th century-in a new production featuring her students at Nashville's Christ Presbyterian Academy.
For Flautt, it's been a 20-year wait for her take on Carousel, the musicalized version of Molnar's Liliom that focuses on the tumultuous relationship between carousel barker Billy Bigelow and the young and vibrant Julie Jordan, so the show's opening on the same date that the historic Broadway production first opened only seems apropos.
"I've been waiting for just the right time and the right cast," Flautt explains.
And now, apparently, she believes the stars have aligned-perhaps with an assist from the starkeeper-and she assembled her cast for her long-anticipated rendition of the musical. In her dream ensemble, she has cast Meg Perdue as Julie Jordan, Patrick Eytchison as Billy Bigelow, Gabrielle Toledo of Carrie Pipperidge, Cullen Williams as Enoch Snow, Buck Wise as Jigger Craigin, Lydia Granered as Nettie Fowler, Abby Newman as Mrs. Mullins and Mary Peyton Hodges as Louise, the role, coincidentally, that was Flautt's first musical theater assignment.
The show includes the well-known songs "If I Love You," "This Was a Real Nice Clambake," "June Is Bustin' Out All Over" and "You'll Never Walk Alone," and Richard Rodgers wrote long after the show's premiere that Carousel was his favorite among all his musicals.
Flautt agrees with Time's assessment of Carousel's significance in musical theatre history, but she is the first to admit that the show is not often performed by high schools, perhaps, she admits, for the same reason she's waited so long to do it: "Carousel is incredibly challenging musically for all the leading roles-Billy, Julie, Carrie, Enoch and Nettie. To hit and sustain those notes is a feat and that is particularly true of the Billy numbers, due to the vocal development and maturation of a 17- or 18-year-old male."
An immediate hit with audiences and critics alike in 1945, Carousel was the second collaboration by the team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, following in the wake of Oklahoma!, credited by some theater historians as a seminal event in the development of American musical theater.
Carousel begins at a carnival in a quaint seaside village in 19th century Maine, where an enigmatic carousel barker (played by Eytchison) meets a lovely millworker (Perdue). Soon, amid clambakes, hornpipe dances, and scavenger hunts, Billy Bigelow and Julie Jordan sing "If I Loved You." Then life takes a tragic turn.
"Handling the serious nature of this show is not a walk in the park. It takes digging in; it takes caring for what the piece is saying and the actors. It deals with physical abuse, suicide and spiritual ramifications. It is not musical comedy-but it is musical relevance," Flautt says.
Flautt's experience with her current troupe of theater students at CPA led her to the realization that now is the perfect time for Carousel: She felt she could entrust such material to actors she had already worked with extensively in plays and musicals such as Shakespeare's Twelfth Night (selected for and performed on the Main Stage at the 2011 Tennessee Thespian Conference), The Outsiders (runner-up in the 2010 Tennessee Theatre Association One-Act Competition on October 2010 and performed on the Southeastern Theatre Conference stage in Atlanta in March 2011), You Can't Take It with You, Fiddler on the Roof, Peter Pan, Much Ado About Nothing and more.
"It is remarkable that this group of leads all have the exceptional voices needed for this challenging score, but they also individually bring significant ingredients to the mix," Flautt suggests. "Patrick Eytchison has the psychological understanding and emotional strength to comprehend Billy Bigelow and the work ethic to support his creation. Meg Perdue intuitively discerns the painful and hopeful places of Julie Jordan; she is fluid in her emotional transitions, and unending in her stream of creative ideas.