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Carousel - Royal Academy of Music

I mean, it’s Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel, revived in this student production without a radical reinterpretation, which is more than can be said for the summer 2021 production at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, which repositioned the whole thing from New England to England, which made the aspirational ‘Soliloquy’, in which Billy Bigelow, having just found out his wife Julie is pregnant, imagines his child to be could be President of the United States, sound absurd. And as I pointed out in my review of that production at the time – since when did we have “a real nice clambake” in Blighty?

As far as this production goes, some more work, perhaps, could have been done on nailing the American accents, something one would have thought would be a fairly high priority for students on a musical theatre course, given the sheer number of musicals set in America, whether they were written by Americans or not. Anyway, there are three reasons why I keep an eye out for the end of (academic) year productions at the Royal Academy of Music – one, being student shows, they’re cheap. Two, being an educational establishment, the bar prices aren’t bad for central London, even if beer and wine probably is cheaper at the Wetherspoons down the road, called the Metropolitan Bar.

Three, it’s a training ground for musicians, whether it’s to become a professional concert-level musician, orchestral or choral conducting, composing music, or training to be an opera singer or musical theatre performer. The bottom line is that the musical productions are strongly supported by, if the production can reasonably justify it, a sizeable orchestra, larger than would be commercially viable even in the West End. This show had thirty musicians in the pit, plus the conductor.

I couldn’t help smiling occasionally at the perennial problem with student productions – however much the costume and make-up departments valiantly do what they can, everyone is more or less in the same age bracket. In a late scene, for example, Billy and Julie’s daughter Louise, about to graduate from high school, doesn’t look sixteen years younger than her parents. The show also began with a trigger warning in the fullest sense of the words ‘trigger warning’ – there is gunfire. Well, there would be. It’s America. It’s actually surprising how little gunfire there is!

The leads at the performance I attended (there’s Cast A and Cast B, to give the entire musical theatre class ample opportunity to showcase themselves), Ari Olfasson as Billy and Réka Jonás as Julie, were fine, although it was Thomas O’Kelly and Sarah Von Egypt as Enoch Snow and Nettie Fowler respectively who stole the show with astonishing voices. Carousel is, of course, of its time, and proceeds at a slower pace than it would if it were written today. But then they don’t write shows like Carousel today.

Photo credit: Craig Fuller

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