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Carousel, reimagined

How do you retell a story that has been told many times over?

Carousel, a musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, was first shown on Broadway in 1945. It tells the tragic love story of Billy Bigelow, a carefree carnival barker, and Julie Jordan, a sweet and naïve millworker. It’s about love and the decisions we make based on it; it’s also about forgiveness and having second chances.

The original production in 1945 ran for 890 performances on Broadway at the Majestic Theatre. It had several revivals on Broadway, West End, and London, among many others. In 1999, Time magazine named Carousel as the best stage musical of the 20th century.

Last Dec. 1, I was able to watch Repertory Philippines’ (REP) reimagining of this award-winning musical under the direction of Pangasinan 4th District Representative Toff de Venecia.

Foremost, I am happy that REP is back to staging live musicals. After all the quarantine restrictions and other limitations during the pandemic, being able to watch a live musical is like a breath of fresh air. And I am happy that I was able to watch REP’s Carousel staged at the newly built black-box theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

In fact, REP was supposed to stage Carousel in 2020, but was held back by the pandemic. But it seems the pause also opened an opportunity for further contemplation on how best to present this award-winning musical.

Toff would describe this as “a Carousel that we know, but it’s also a Carousel that we don’t.” When I was there, I understood what he meant.

It’s like a familiar story told anew to make it relevant to the present times and more relatable to present audience. The minimal set allowed the audience to better immerse into the characters. The mu-sic, the singing, dancing, and acting — the whole cast gave a powerful performance that makes one proud of the Filipino talent and artistry. The creatives and production behind it did a great job in elevating Philippine theater experience.

REP and Toff delivered a bold, postmodern, edgy and radical reimagining of a classic musical. I haven’t seen a play this good in ages. I left the theater in awe, inspired — with firm belief that we are now entering a new age — the renaissance of Philippine theater.

I hope more can watch this masterpiece. It runs until Dec. 18, 2022 at the new CCP Black Box Theater.

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