The curtain went up last night on the Tunbridge Wells Operatic Dramatic Society’s production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic Carousel. Eileen Leahy spoke to its director David Fawcett ahead of its five night run at the Assembly Hall about why this popular piece of theatre is such a fantastic hit with actors and audiences.
As musicals go, Carousel is one of the world’s best loved and contains some of the genre’s biggest hits including You’ll Never Walk Alone and If I loved You.
The story was adapted from a play called Lilliom, written by Ferenc Molnar in 1909 and developed into a musical by the legendary duo Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein who also wrote Oklahoma. Rodgers went on to say that it was his favourite of all the musicals he had been involved in.
First performed on Broadway in 1945, it tells the story of the charming carousel worker Billy Bigelow who falls in love with local millworker Julie Jordan. Sadly their romance means they both lose their jobs and as a result Billy plans a robbery to make ends meet and to provide for their unborn child. When things don’t go to plan Billy decides he’d rather die than go to jail but is fortunately given the chance to put things right. A secondary plot line runs alongside this focusing on Julie’s best friend and millworker Carrie Pipperidge and her romance with the ambitious Enoch Snow. Audiences should prepare themselves for night filled with plenty of drama and heartbreak…
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR INVOLVEMENTWITH CAROUSEL?
I’m what they call a guest director so I’ve come in to help the Tunbridge Wells Operatic Dramatic Society (TWODS) just for this show. I did Sister Act with them last year and they kindly asked me to come back and do Carousel.
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU’RE NOT DIRECTING AMATEUR DRAMATICS?
I’m a singer and I tour with a show called Beyond the Barricades. It was put together by a group of former Les Misérables principals, including myself. It’s full of songs from popular musicals and 17 years on, we’re still performing all over the world. We have 80 dates in the UK this year and we’re off to New Zealand in September for a month.
HOW DO YOU MANAGE TO FIT YOUR DIRECTING DUTIES IN WITH YOUR TOURING?
It’s pretty busy but good fun. The good thing is that most of our Barricades shows are at the weekends so Carousel fits in quite nicely.
WHY DID YOU AGREE TO GET INVOLVED WITH A TWODS PRODUCTION AGAIN?
I love Carousel. It’s just a really great, iconic musical. It’s a fairly simple story but it has a good moral message and the cast have responded to it very well.
CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE STORY?
It’s set in New England in the United States at the end of the 19th century and centres around a carousel worker called Billy Bigelow who falls in love with a girl called Julie Jordan. The pair end up getting sacked from their jobs as a result of their romance and things go downhill from there. Billy plans a robbery in order to provide for Julie and their unborn baby but it all goes wrong. Rather than go to jail he decides to kill himself and – without giving too much away – Billy then gets the opportunity to put right all he has done wrong…
HOW MANY PERFORMERS ARE IN THE CAST?
There are approximately 35 people involved in the production overall with eight principals, a big chorus and lots of dancers so it’s a fairly big show.
DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH CASTING THE LEAD ROLES?
Everything is done by committee at TWODS so a number of people are involved in choosing the cast but the final decision about who is picked for which role usually comes down to myself and the choreographer Bertie Witt. We discuss casting between us and hope that the committee agrees with us, which on this occasion they did.
HOW LONG IS THE PROCESS FROM AUDITIONS TO THE CURTAIN GOING UP?
We would usually have started in November last year but due to various work commitments and Christmas we postponed the auditions until January. By the second week we had cast everyone and by the end of the month we were rehearsing, so we turned it around pretty quickly.
CAN YOU TELL US HOW YOU PUT A SHOW OF THIS SCALE TOGETHER?
It has been quite intense but I believe a shorter period of rehearsal time helps to focus the mind. We started with the music side of things in late January and then we started ‘blocking’ the show at the end of February. This means the process of quite literally starting to set the scenes and direct actors.
ARE THERE ANY DIRECTORS WHO YOU ADMIRE?
I worked with Trevor Nunn and John Caird on Les Misérables, they are two of the biggest musical theatre and Shakespeare directors in the West End. I learnt a lot from them and was inspired by their work but I am also influenced by many of the original directors of classic musicals since they pioneered this type of theatre in the first place.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT MUSICALS?
The fact that they’re not real life, they’re magical. They also appeal to a wide audience and allow you to convey so many different emotions through song. A lot of people criticise musicals but they are one of the most difficult forms of theatre as they combine acting, singing and dancing all at once and so your problems as a director are potentially threefold! But when it all comes together it’s great.
HOW DO YOU FIND WORKING WITH TWODS, CAN YOU SINGLE OUT ANY ACTORS?
Different people have their individual merits but the fact is the chorus are just as important as the principals. Without the whole package you don’t have a show.
WHAT CAN AUDIENCES AT THE ASSEMBLY HALL EXPECT WHEN THEY COME ALONG TO SEE CAROUSEL?
Great singing, fantastic dancing, brilliant costumes, lots of colour and ultimately a really spectacular show. Audiences will get to spend a night with one of the world’s most famous musicals and in my opinion that’s just brilliant.
Carousel is on at the Assembly Hall until Saturday April 30.
Performances start at 7.30pm with matinees on Wednesday and Saturday at 2.30pm. Tickets available from TWODS Box Office on 0345 269 1889 or www.twods.org