THE CAST of Repertory Philippines’ production of Carousel was three weeks into rehearsals when the world shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. After two years, they are finally able to step out and perform it on stage.
Rep will premiere Carousel in a new venue — the Tanghalang Ignacio Gimenez within the Cultural Center of the Philippines complex — on Nov. 26, and it will run until Dec. 18.
Created by Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (book and lyrics), Carousel collected a slew of accolades from critics and audiences after its Broadway debut in 1945. This production won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Musical and was ultimately hailed by Time Magazine as the greatest musical of the 20th century. Its subsequent revivals also won Tony, Olivier, and Drama Desk Awards.
“When I included it in the season, it was [in a way] my homage to our founders. It was a homage to our legacy, and to Carmen ‘Baby’ Johnson Barredo with Zeneida ‘Bibot’ Amador, to their choices, and to their artistry,” Rep Artistic director Liesl Batucan said in a press conference on Oct. 3 at the Makati Garden Club. “But now the challenge is how to build upon that and how to bring it forward to the young generation and a new generation of theater goers.”
Rep first staged Carousel in 1996 under the direction of co-founder Ms. Barredo.
Carousel follows the story of carnival barker Billy Bigelow who falls in love with and marries the sweet yet naïve millworker Julie Jordan. After learning Julie is pregnant, desperate for money, Billy is forced to participate in a robbery that ends in tragedy. He is then given a second chance to make things right. Carousel features musical theater classics like “If I Loved You,” “June is Bustin’ Out All Over,” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
Christopher “Toff” De Venecia makes his Rep directorial debut in this production.
UPDATING FOR A NEW CENTURY
For Mr. De Venecia, the pandemic’s pause was a welcome opportunity for introspection that has further helped the venerable theater company’s transition to more progressive, dynamic, and culturally relevant narratives.
In a post “Me Too” movement society and its changing world views on violence and misogyny, it was clear for Mr. De Venecia that they had “to address all of these landmines that are in the show.”
“I am in a liminal state — navigating the romanticism of the best musical of the 20th century and the landmines in the text, reading it from a contemporary 21st century perspective. We had a radical proposition during the 2020 staging, and possibly even a more radical proposition now which we’re excited to explore further in rehearsals,” Mr. De Venecia said.
This production is navigating the story into post-pandemic realities and contexts.
“It’s a postmodern take on a classical material,” Mr. De Venecia said of his directing approach to the material without having to change the text. “You’re going see all these postmodern, post pandemic experiences somehow being layered to the text.”
“Through staging and intention, we’re going to be pushing against these boxes and see how we can go out of it or be outside of it,” he said.
From the original cast of 30, the current production was downsized to 14 actors.
Rep’s production will be led by Gian Magdangal as Billy Bigelow and Karylle Tatlonghari as Julie Jordan in their debut Rep production, Joining the two leads are Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante as Carrie Pipperidge, Julie’s best friend, and Lorenz Martinez as Mr. Enoch Snow, Carrie’s love interest.
Also in the cast are Red Nuestro, Roxy Aldiosa, Julio Laforteza, Gia Gequinto, Noel Rayos, Mia Bolaño, Roby Mallubay, Paula Paguio, Steven Hotchkiss, Cara Barredo, Czar Decena, and Kyla Rivera-Soong (who is also the show’s Assistant Director).
Through a venue grant from the CCP, the musical joins the inaugural production lineup of the newly opened Black Box Theater or Tanghalang Ignacio B. Gimenez at the CCP Complex.
Aside from the cast, one could say that the music was also downsized as this production will use a two-piano musical orchestration — a departure from the musical’s regular orchestration which is performed by a 24- to 30-piece orchestra.
“Apparently, there is a license from the Rodgers and Hammerstein company for two-piano [accompaniment] but in concerto style. Imagine all those 24 instruments being inserted into two pianos! So, it’s quite difficult,” musical director and pianist Ejay Yatco said, describing the rehearsals for the musical arrangement like training for the Olympics.
Mr. Yatco is joined on piano by Jed Balsamo with whom he had previously collaborated with for the piano accompaniment in Himala: Isang Musikal.
Tickets for Carousel are available through the CCP Box Office, TicketWorld, and SM Tickets. Ticket prices range from P1,000 to P3,000. For updates, visit www.repertoryphilippines.ph, like and follow Repertory Philippines on Facebook and Instagram. Educators and school representatives who are interested in the show can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman