Tim Rogan has gotten good at dying. Now he’s working on life after death.
“He dies in like every play,” said St. Andrews senior Marisa Rheem. Rogan and Rheem play the lead roles of Billy Bigelow and Julie Jordan in the school’s upcoming production of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical “Carousel.”
Written originally as a play by the Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnar, the famed Broadway duo made their original adaptation in 1945. It is a little bit darker than the typical Rodgers & Hammerstein productions, said Ritchie Porter, the play’s director.
“A lot of people remember it as a sweet boy-meets-girl story,” said Porter. “The twist is that they don’t live happily ever after.”
Set in a New England mill town in the 1870s, the tale follows the love of Bigelow and Jordan, who marry shortly after they meet at the carousel where Bigelow works as a barker. Through a series of unfortunate events, both lose their jobs and fall on hard times that put a strain on their marriage. Bigelow falls in with a rough crowd and grows disenchanted with the life of a married man and his frustration takes the form in domestic violence, nearly all of which occurs offstage, said Porter.
“I think if it were written today [the domestic violence] would be confronted much more head-on,” said Porter.
Bigelow takes part in a robbery to gain some much-needed cash, but when the robbery goes bad Bigelow is surrounded by police and he takes his own life to avoid being caught. That scene involves a musical soliloquy that lasts nine minutes, Rogan said .
“The death scene… really opens up the flood gate for [Bigelow] to be able to change,” said Rogan.
BIGELOW’S DEATH is only the beginning. On his way to heaven he is given the chance to return to Earth to make things right. However, a minute in heaven is 15 years on Earth, and when Bigelow returns the daughter that was unborn when he died is now 15 years old. His daughter is friendless and sad, but ultimately Bigelow, who appears to her as a stranger, is able to help her find her way. He is also able to make his presence known to Jordan, whose evolution as a multi-faceted character, like that of Bigelow, is not complete until after Bigelow’s death.
“There are so many different sides to both of our characters,” said Rheem. “It’s one of the things that really brings the show to life.” Jordan goes from being a strong, independent woman when she meets Bigelow to being a subjugated, submissive wife once they are married, Rheem said. Bigelow’s death allows her to reestablish her independence and become a stronger person, said Rheem.
“Death adds a whole other element to [Bigelow’s] character,” said Rogan. A rough, selfish person before his death, Bigelow learns selflessness and the ability to truly love once he is dead, said Rogan.
“He learns how to love and how to tell others that he loves them,” said Porter.
THE CHOICE of “Carousel” follows what Rogan and Rheem described as Porter’s tendency to go back and forth between serious and light productions. “On the Town” and “Les Miserables” were the previous productions. Rogan and Rheem took part in both, with Rogan playing the ill-fated lead role in “Les Miserables.”
Porter chose the piece in part because it is the first Rodgers & Hammerstein production that he has directed in his seven years at the school, but also because of the wide variety of roles.
“It’s not just [the standard] two males and two females,” said Porter. “There are lots of different opportunities for the actors.” Porter said that there are five good leading female roles and three male leads, along with many strong supporting roles.
This performance also marks the first time in his seven years that the students have designed and built the set, Porter said. Juniors Sarah Danly and Thea Kline-Mayer designed the stage that undergoes a variety of changes during the course of the two-act performance.
While the performance itself may not be a typical love story with a happy ending, Porter said that the message is still one of hope.
“It’s true that the institution of marriage doesn’t necessarily do that well [in the play] … but love does triumph,” said Porter. “It’s the theme that true love transcends all of life’s problems.”
Even death, apparently.