by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Valdosta State University’s Peach State Summer Theatre (PSST!) has opened its 22nd season with Carousel, Rogers and Hammerstein’s loved story of a brash and macho carnival employee and a young and innocent mill worker. This musical is considered by many to be one of the best musicals of the Twentieth Century; in fact Time Magazine in 1999 declared it to be the very best.
It’s the fantasy tale of carnival barker Billy Bigelow (Kyle Downing), who tries to change his life after he falls in love with and marries the demure and charming Julie Jordan (Hillary Smith). Both were well cast, with excellent voices and great chemistry between them. After Julie announces she is pregnant, Billy, who has left the carnival, plans a robbery to obtain money to provide for the family’s future, but dies after his attempt is unsuccessful. His heavenly hosts allow him to return to earth for one day to set things right with his now teenage daughter.
A delightful subplot enhances the musical, putting it in a lighter vein. Julie’s best friend Carrie (Laura Wright) is courted by Mr. Snow (Michael Elliott), in a most humorous fashion. In addition, Director Jacque Wheeler joined with Choreographer Eric Brandt Nielsen, to present delightful dance sequences that are very lively and display the wonderful ensemble talent in big numbers like “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” and “A Real Nice Clambake”
To point out all the excellent voices would be to merely list the entire cast, but then the Peach State Summer Theatre program has always been known for outstanding singing. The yearly auditions for this repertory company draw participants from all over US. When you read the biographies in the program, you will notice that most of the actors are enrolled in or graduates of a university theatre program, with many from the renowned Valdosta State University program. The leading characters were truly professional in their performances. Again to repeat, to single out each individual excellence would be like restating the cast list.
One of the joys of seeing a repertory group do three plays in one season is the opportunity to see many of the actors in very different roles in each show, as the PSST! Season continues with The Jungle Book and Hairspray. For example, Sara DelBeato plays the middle-aged boarding house owner, Nettie and sings “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” one of the most popular and well known songs from Carousel. Ms. DelBeato will go from playing an older woman to portraying the teenage lead, Tracy Turnblad in “Hairspray” two weeks from now. Sara has a gorgeous voice and we can’t wait to see the transition.
In Carousel as well, is Hannah Trowell playing Billy’s young daughter Louise and performing the enchanting “Carousel Ballet.” The Dual Critics remember well her excellent performance last season as Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden.
This official musical theater program of Georgia performed for fifteen years in an outdoor amphitheater on Jekyll Island. Seven years ago it was moved to the Valdosta State University campus, when coping with the outdoor elements (blistering heat mixed with mosquitoes and torrential rains) and the high costs of moving theatrical gear and housing those involved in the production dictated a change in venue. And the venue at Valdosta State University is excellent; indoors of course, and with air conditioning, of course. The seats in the carpeted stadium style auditorium are a bit wider than most and very comfortable, with plenty of leg room. Even sitting in the last row, one can see every facial expression clearly and hear every wonderful note since the cast is miked.
The opening scene is a visual delight, set to the lovely “Carousel Waltz.” The stage fills with amusement park workers and townspeople, who recreate a festive evening in an earlier era in slow, silent pantomime. The scene includes a clever, manually powered carousel. The costume design by Esther Iverson is outstanding, with period detail in muted colors.
The sets by Tom Hansen reflect the play’s New England coastal setting, with the ocean and a lighthouse in the background, wharfs, large trees, and rustic clapboard buildings, as well as a beautiful vision of heaven.
This musical has truly classic songs that you will walk out of the theatre humming. “If I Loved You,” “Mister Snow,”“June is Bustin’ Out All Over,” and ”You’ll Never Walk Alone,” are truly among the all time greats.
In this extraordinary cast are: Laura Wright(Carrie), Hillary Smith(Julie), Barbara Dare Thomas (Mrs. Mullin), Kyle Downing (Billy Bigelow), Chance Wall (Policeman), Jeffrey Clifford (David Bascombe), Jamie Bickerstaff ( Young Bascombe /Snow Child), Sara DelBeato (Nettie Fowler), Michael Elliott (Enoch Snow), Andrew Thomas, Jr. (Jigger), Stephanie Peterson (Arminy), Jacobi Hall (Captain), Leslie Putnam (Heavenly Friend), Jonathan Butts (Starkeeper/Dr. Seldon), Tim Olivar (Carnival Boy), Liam Bickerstaff (Enoch Snow, Jr.) and Nathan Cohen (Principal. The Snow Children were: Gabriel Bickerstaff, John Paul Bickerstaff, Hudson Hardesty Hsu, Caitlin Miller, and Allie Smotherman. Completing the ensemble: Ashley Adams, Ashley Noel Clark, Jeffery Clifford, Antoinette Comer, Jocelyn Martin, Dani Miguel, Sara Beth Moseley, Ashdyn Neal, Steven Isaac Rice, and Miquela Rivers.
Visiting Valdosta and the Peach State Summer Theatre is probably the easiest two-hour trip you have ever driven. Once you are on I-10 West and make your turn on I-75 near Lake City, you won’t have to stop until downtown Valdosta. The three shows will run in an alternating schedule once all of them open. Jungle Book opens June 17; Hairspray opens June 24. For a complete schedule, just put Peach Summer Theatre into your search engine. Want to have a fantastic Fourth of July weekend? Then plan to see Jungle Book July 2 at 2pm, followed by “Carousel” at 7:30 pm. You can spend the night and enjoy a day or two at Wild Adventures Theme Park also in Valdosta.
For reservations call (229) 259-7770. If you enjoy professional musical theatre you are going to love Peach State Summer Theatre!
CAROUSEL theatre review
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM