Take a big, classic musical like Rodgers and Hammerstein’s CAROUSEL (now thru April 6 at KC Rep). Get rid of the pretty period clothes, the handsome scenery, and most of the musicians…
Add some grit, compliments of local theater trailblazers Rusty Sneary and Kyle Hatley, the artists behind Crossroads
area theater company The Living Room. Play the whole thing in the round, so the actors are literally in your face, and you’ve
got KC Rep’s hip “new” musical hit.
This ain’t your grandma’s CAROUSEL.
R&H’s 1945 follow up to their groundbreaking musical OKLAHOMA!, CAROUSEL has never been a money spinner
like the duo’s other work because it’s a pretty dark piece. Guy knocks up a girl and kills himself, then botches things when
he comes back for the daughter he never met (I presume I don’t need a spoiler alert for a 68 year old musical).
Mr Wrong is Billy Bigelow, one of the most famous musical roles in Broadway history. Sneary does a nice turn in the part,
sucking all of the charm out the low life carnival barker who has small town girls panting for a ride on his carousel, if you get my drift.
The lovely Julie (oh so cute Molly Denninghoff) falls hard for him, but gets the shaft (still with me?). Billy’s a not-too-bright bully,
so when he slaps Julie around, it should come as no surprise. But the domestic violence in this Living Room
production rings especially mean and true. You hurt for poor Julie; Billy’s a dick.
Liz Clark Golson delights as Carrie, Julie’s friend who opts for a more secure Mr Right–though
you can feel her smolder when she’s around first Billy, then his ne’er do well partner Jigger (played
by the menacing Nick Uthoff, who I wouldn’t want to meet in a Westport alley). As Carrie’s beau Enoch Snow,
Sean Moise looks a little too much like Billy for my tastes, but he gets the job done.
Music director Eryn Bates and guitar/synth player Sean Hogge add the right touch to this
stripped down CAROUSEL; I was surprised I didn’t miss those great Don Walker orchestrations.
Steve Eubanks choreography is limber, if sometimes a bit loud (but again, everything was SO close). Rep production
values are their usual first class– somebody spent a lot of money on lumber to rebuild the Living Room on the
Spencer Theatre stage. And the ensemble– many of them awfully young, which actually works for CAROUSEL–
I have to admit I wasn’t that excited about Kyle’s CAROUSEL when it played the Living Room a couple of years back.
It was the talk of the town, but I found the whole thing pretentious. And what the fuck were all of those light bulbs for?
Moved more or less intact to the Rep, Hatley’s CAROUSEL still seems a couple of steps above
a student production— a really good student production, I might add– but that shouldn’t keep audiences away. It’s hard to make
a 70 year old musical come alive for contemporary audiences. Judging by the crowds’ enthusiastic applause–both Downtown
and now at the Rep–Rusty, Kyle and company have apparently done just that.