Sometimes we’ll do something and they’ll laugh. Sometimes we’ll do something and they’ll cry. And maybe, one day we’ll do something so magnificent, everyone will get goosebumps, wrote American writer June Wagner.
While perhaps a tad gushing, Wagner’s sentiment is quite applicable to St. Mel’s Musical Society’s production of ‘Carousel’, running in the Backstage Theatre until this Saturday evening.
In many ways ‘Carousel’ was a risky choice for the local musical society. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical, first performed in 1945 and set in 1873, is quite dark with underlying themes of lost-love, loneliness and suicide at times almost overwhelmingly bleak. Yet, despite its heavy subject matter ‘Carousel’ is actually quite an uplifting piece of theatre.
Tied together by the resolve of its leading ladies, St Mel’s débutantes, Deirdre McCabe and Deirdre Leavy, the musical is at its best when these two talented actresses are interacting on stage.
Both women are superb vocalists and their voices pack real punch. ‘Carousel’ is their story. In the beginning, we see these two women discuss falling in love; Carrie sings of finding love with fisherman Enoch Snow, played to perfection by the so competent Tony Wadd.
Perhaps in spite of this, or in naivety, Julie goes off with the leading male Billy Bigelow (played by Kevin Gormley), beginning a difficult and heart-breaking life. The musical spans a significant period of time and later we learn Carrie has gone on to a life of contentment with Enoch (and nine children), while Julie struggles to make ends meet having suffered violence at the hands of Billy.
You are unlikely to find a more unlikeable lead character as that of Billy Bigelow; a difficult role played with some skill by the excellent Kevin Gormley – another St Mel’s newcomer. And although the production makes a gallant effort to find redemption for Billy’s character in the closing scenes, it never quite gets to the stage where you can actually sympathise with him.
This year the society cleverly moved the orchestra from the wings to front of stage, creating a rich musical atmosphere in the Backstage Theatre. As always, musical director Fintan Farrelly conducted proceedings with skill, and it was a real pleasure to both see and hear exhilarating music performed up close.
The music added suspense to the stand-out scene with Deirdre McCabe’s most convincing tears on the stage replicated by many in the audience when Aughnacliffe native, Aideen Mulligan gave a heart-wrenching rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. It is hard to imagine Mulligan’s performance being overlooked by the AIMS nominations which will be announced on May 20th.
Mulligan was to the fore again during the highlight of Act 1 with a rendition of ‘June is Bustin’ Out All Over’ delivered with aplomb by the whole ensemble.
‘Carousel’ truly succeeds in its group scenes, when the talent of the whole cast is utilised to best effect. ‘June is Bustin’ Out All Over’ was a definite crowd pleaser, but the closing rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ was almost electrifying in its delivery.
David Flaherty is excellent in the rogue role of Jigger while Benny O’Brien and John Kelly, in a brief but memorable cameo, provide some light relief amidst all the seriousness. Given the history of these two actors in Longford, some members of the audience were almost giggling at the sight of the two veterans in their sparkling attire – before they even uttered a line.
Great credit must go to the Director, Leonard Anderson and all behind the scenes at St. Mel’s Musical Society for delivering yet another fantastic night’s entertainment.
Tickets are almost sold out for the last few shows. Contact the Backstage Theatre on 043 33 47888.