Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II called "Carousel" their favorite collaboration. Time magazine called it the best musical of the 20th century.
The Springer Opera House presented it in 1977, and 31 years later, it's back on the 137-year-old stage.
"I've always been a big fan of 'Carousel,' " said Paul Pierce, the Springer's artistic director and director of "Carousel." "It is so unlike the musicals of the period. There are the star-crossed lovers and the exotic locale. But what makes this something unusual, something exotic are the whalers, clambake culture, the carnies. And there's a taboo — domestic violence that's hauled out of the shadows and put on center stage."
Pierce said it is not a "neat and tidy" musical in that respect.
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And because of that, Pierce has invited representatives of Hope Harbour, the Columbus Alliance for Battered Women's shelter. Hope Harbour volunteers will be at every performance with literature and information about their services.
There will also be talk-back sessions after three of the performances (March 1 and March 8-9) where Pierce, cast members and Hope Harbour volunteers will talk about the issues of abuse raised by the musical.
But Pierce doesn't want the serious subject matter to turn off musical fans. Songs like “If I Loved You," “June Is Bustin' Out All Over" and “You'll Never Walk Alone" have become classics.
“It is easy to understand and it is easy to enjoy," Pierce said.
" 'Carousel' is a very watchable show," said Adam Clough, who plays Billy Bigelow. "The relationships in the show makes it timeless. They are human relationships; real relationships."
One relationship features the worldly, well-traveled guy (Billy) and the local girl (Julie, played by Tala Al-Khudhairi) who has never been anywhere, Pierce said.
Julie, Al-Khudhairi said, is a young woman who works in a mill and lives in a mill boarding house with other women workers.
"She's pretty complex," Al-Khudhairi said. "She's intrigued by Billy. She's ready for a change and wants to see what else is available."
The play is set in the 1870s when mills often controlled their workers lives. After a grueling day at the mill, workers went home to apartments owned by the mill and shared by several workers.
That mill controls Julie's life, Pierce said. She has a grueling work schedule and life in the boarding house. And the reason why she isn't living at home?
Young men and women sometimes left their parents homes to live at mill-owned boarding houses. Pierce said poverty may have played a role in this or it could be the family stayed close to the farm, while older children went to work in the city.
Julie's friend, Carrie, is played by Kimberly Hickman. "Carrie is spunky," Hickman said. "Jigger (played by Jens Rasmussen) tries to get mixed up with me. But I stand up to him because I have a fiance. She's a gullible little girl."
Carrie and Jigger offer the comic relief.
Clough and Tom Bruett, who plays "Carnival Boy," have both done "Carousel" before. Bruett was in the ensemble, and Clough played Jigger, the bad-boy carny.
So what's the difference between Billy and Jigger?
"Jigger is a bad guy," Clough explained. "Billy is a bad guy with a conscience. It's hard to explain. It is a complicated relationship. The difference between Jigger and Billy is Billy falls in love. Other than that, they are extremely similar people. But Billy explored much more in depth."
Rasmussen said Jigger is "dangerous and comical at the same time."
He points out to his attempted relationship with Carrie and the more dangerous one with Mrs. Mullin (played by Rebecca McGraw), who owns the carnival.
"Yet another complicated relationship," Rasmussen said.
Bruett said he really can't compare productions because the last time he did "Carousel," it was in a community theater, and he says the Springer is a professional one. "This is much more professional," he said.
IF YOU GOWhat: "Carousel," the timeless Rodgers & Hammerstein musical about star-crossed loversWhen: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 28-March 1; also, 7:30 p.m. March 6-8 and March 13-15 and 2:30 p.m. March 9Where: Springer Opera House, 103 10th St.Tickets: $8-$35Information: 706-327-3688