Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Carousel," produced by the Arlington Players, Aug. 21, 22 and 23 at 8:30 p.m., Lubber Run Amphitheatre, Columbus and 2nd streets, North Arlington. Call 558-2165 for information.
Passion and pathos are busting out all over in the beautiful harmonies of "Carousel," showing this weekend at Arlington's Lubber Run Amphitheatre.
Using top-notch local singers, the Arlington Players have pulled the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic closer to its operatic roots. The solos are spectacular, the ensembles are excellent, and the acting is even okay, by singers' standards.
Carousel's plot fits neatly into this summer's theme: weddings, and their (sometimes) happily-ever-afters. The viewer must keep track of two marriages in this drama, set in a 19th century New England seaport. The first is that of Julie Jordan (Leslie Umphrey) and carousel barker and professional scalliwag Billy Bigelow (Harvey Loveless). You'll recognize Loveless easily -- he's the one with the great singing voice and the tendency to whisper his lines.
The second couple would steal the show if the first two weren't such good singers. Carrie Pepperidge (Christine Hechinger), a hip-wiggling mill girl, has managed to snare mundane Enoch Snow (Jim Golterman). He's a workaholic who plans to produce a fleet of little boats and little kids, giving the same dull intensity to both projects.
The rest of the plot for this tragedy has to do with the fact that the first marriage doesn't work out and the second one does.
Billy and Julie meet and marry without actually admitting they love each other, and both lose their jobs in the process. Then they cope with unemployment in unsuccessful ways -- he by hitting her, she by complaining about him.
Carrie, meanwhile, learns of Enoch's plans for the two fleets and agrees to the match in spite of them, partly because she loves the guy, and partly because "June is Busting Out All Over" and there's something really appealing about a summer wedding, don't you think?
Enter Jigger, a dastardly deed-doer with a dastardly deed in mind. He cons Billy into agreeing to steal $3,000 from the local mill owner -- a deal Billy rejects until he learns he is to be a father, and can use the money.
This is followed by a funny soliloquy by Billy on parenting ("You Can Have Fun With A Son, But You Have to Be A Father to a Daughter,") and a chance for the audience to stretch their legs.
Bring a picnic basket for the intermission, because the next scene contains succulent descriptions of a New England clambake. This is followed by another tradition -- a treasure hunt -- giving Billy and Jigger a perfect cover for their thievery.
Unfortunately, the mill owner is packing a gun and the heist ends in failure. Jigger jogs away, and Billy, determined not to go to jail, kills himself.
It is at this point we learn that the actress playing Julie knows how to cry on cue. Then comes the most beautiful song in the show, "You'll Never Walk Alone," exquisitely done by Nettie Fowler (Bronwen K. Woodson), the show's requisite older-woman-guidance-counselor, who agrees to care for Julie through her pregnancy.
Gee, that was a lovely song -- so lovely, in fact, that Rodgers and Hammerstein decided to run it through again. This time the scene is a graduation ceremony for the class that includes Billy's daughter Louise, a young woman weighted by her father's past.
Billy's ghost is there, trying to help his daughter overcome the town's prejudice against her (as in, "Your Daddy Was A Thief!") while informing his wife that he loves her.
For this, he needs the whole town singing that gorgeous song -- not a bad idea, actually, especially since they do it so well.
There are a few things the Players do less well, most of which director Sherry Follmer could fix, like tightening up scene endings -- a little awkward on opening night -- and asking the sound crew to rethink the placement of the mikes.
Choreographer Diane Fay also might purchase some matches to light a fire under the female dancers. The male dancers, by contrast, make a bunch of rowdy sailors and their ballet-cum-calisthenics great fun to watch. And the ballet by Billy's daughter (Susan Herndon) proves that Miss Fay's instincts are right.
Finally, there are a few things the audience can do to help the evening along:
Get there early. Seats are gone by 7:30 p.m., so you may as well bring dinner. The park has tables and grills, and concessionaires sold soft drinks on opening night.
Get a babysitter for your toddler. The show is one of the few affordable ways to expose kids to culture, but judging by the number of parents leaving after the first act, most little ones can't go the three-hour distance.
Bring a sweater. It's amazing how cool it can be at 11 p.m.
Bring some money. The program is free, but "donations" are welcome, and the talent is worth your support.