Back in the year 1990, I was a miserable, strange looking three year old child. The miserable part was because I was very ill so I can totally be let off for that. Having an as yet undiscovered fair sized hole in your heart is no picnic, but the strange looks stayed with me when the misery left. You win some, you lose some.
Apart from spending most of my time crying, I liked to sing and wrap towels around my waist to pretend like I had a big floating skirt on. After a particularly rough night with a howling mini me, my parents decided an old fashioned musical might soothe me. They took a gamble, but it paid off.
According to the parents that tell it better than I do because they were adults and actually remember it, as soon as that Rodgers and Hammerstein VHS started playing in our old grey video player, I was a different child.
The famous music of Carousel started up and I was hooked. The beautiful sound, the way the late, great Gordon Macrae as Billy Bigelow polished those pretty and delicate stars in heaven. I was transfixed. I stopped my crying and scooted along on the floor, as close as I could get, to watch this wonder in detail. I commented on how he had the best job getting to polish all the stars like that, not quite realising he was dead. Apparently, I didn’t move for three hours. I watched in awe as the carousel came on, I told my parents that Julie Jordan played by the brilliant Shirley Jones was so pretty. I watched the dreamy scenery and the boats. I said I wanted every single dress that the girls wore in ‘June is Bustin’ out all over. I gasped when Billy goes on his sad way to the job of polishing the stars. I watched how Louise Bigelow danced while Billy looked on. I squealed when Billy sang the reprise of If I Loved You to Julie. I clapped when it was over and said I wanted it on again.
The story goes that I watched Carousel about thirty times in the next year. It was one of the only things that soothed me. My parents were grateful to have me out of pain and so happy by something that of course they let me. After they discovered the hole in my heart and I had my operation, I asked for Carousel to be played as soon as I was out of hospital. The love affair with the film grew over the years. Needless to say, it was my favourite. After the op, when I was well and happy, I watched it every so often and sang my heart out. I knew it word for word. I begged my parents for a ‘dress like they wear in Carousel’ for every birthday and Christmas for years. Every time I got poorly, the old favourite would be put on the tele box. Along with the love of the film came my admiration for Shirley Jones and Gordon Macrae especially. Gordon Macrae has been the only man I have ever personally used the term ‘idol’ for. To put all I have said so far in a simple sentence – I bloody love Carousel.
So when I received an unexpected offer to watch the stage show in London, I jumped at the chance. I would even go as far to say it had been a lifelong dream to see a stage adaptation of Carousel one day. On Friday night, I made my way to the London Coliseum with the excitement of a small child at Christmas.
I was already blown away when I stepped into the theatre. I think I can safely say it is so far my favourite out of all the London theatres. It is simply beautiful.
This production of Carousel had been widely advertised. Katherine Jenkins showcased her first ever acting role and West End debut in the shows five week run as Julie Jordan. Alfie Boe, famed for his powerful voice and leading West End role as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables starred as Billy Bigelow. The other big name to be announced was Only Fools and Horses very own Nicholas Lyndhurst who played the star keeper.
This show had a lot to live up to in my mind. If you go and see a different version of something you love, there is always the chance you will dislike it.
The start of the show was enthralling. Alfie Boe as Billy without saying a word at first made everyone feel the things he was feeling on that stage. The layout of the set was stunning. When I saw how they staged the actual Carousel, I gasped. Big lights, graceful dancers and creative magic. With a little added turntable thing of course. It was a feast for the eyes from the get go.
I can’t describe just what I feel when I hear that famous music start up. It gives me tingles. I sat there in awe watching the goings on in front of me and just couldn’t believe I was even there.
Alex Young as Carrie was somehow everything the Carrie I knew, yet completely made the character her own. I loved her from the start and coupled with Gavin Spokes who played her ‘almost perfect beau’ made the sometimes dark and emotional nature of the show light hearted and funny.
There was an instant chemistry between Alfie and Katherine and I believed the love story. One of my favourite scenes in any film ever, not just Carousel, is the moment when Julie and Billy are talking about what it would be like if they loved each other. The mood is romantic and tense with all new possibilities in the air. Blossoms are falling down around them even though there is no wind and it is perfect. The film version – iconic to me. When Katherine sang If I Loved You, her tinkling voice haunted the theatre. We all know she can sing, but I was actually very impressed with her acting too.
When Alfie sang If I Loved You back to her, I got chills. I will be the first to admit I didn’t really know too much about Alfie. I had heard clips of him here and there and thought he was impressive. But after being in his presence that night and hearing his voice, I decided impressive does not begin to cover it. He was sensational. His Soliloquy moved me to tears. The emotion he put into it was very real. You really saw his feelings change from wanting a son to realising how being a Father to a girl would impact him. My eyes didn’t leave him as he worked the whole stage and barely stopped for breath, managing to make the entire (long) song note perfect.
The entire cast impressed me. Brenda Edwards was superb, and I was thrilled to catch her on stage once again. I will be here all night if I have to state why I loved each cast member, but as a team, they were perfect.
‘A Real Nice Clambake’ was cleverly done and very witty. I was anxiously awaiting the moment where everything goes wrong and it didn’t disappoint. Alfie played the desperate father to be who is constantly down on his luck perfectly. The desperation he portrayed as he ended his life was spot on. I wondered exactly how the stage adaption would do this (in the film….Billy runs away and falls on his knife)….this particular scene always gets to me, but I felt the stage adaptation was even more powerful. Of course, the stage adaptation IS the original version, but I only have my beloved film to go by. So I wasn’t expecting the death of Billy to happen this way and it got me good. Side note…. *Alfie plays a dead man very good. He had to lie still for years. YEARS.*
When Billy gets the chance to go back down to earth to do some good, the dancing by every single actor from this point was spot on. Perfection. Nicholas Lyndhurst was a gem as the star keeper and I think it’s the coolest thing to say I got to see an Only Fools LEGEND in the flesh. (I’ve also met Boycie once in Waterstones. Got a picture with him and everything. I believe we are best friends now.)((The details are sketchy but I’m sure we are.))(((Nobody double check this. Thanks.)))
It would be hard to describe my feelings as the show got nearer to the end and Billy sang the reprise of If I Loved You to Julie. I cried, but honestly….it was a mix of sad that he has to go into the mist and leave her, and happy at just witnessing it all. Alfie really stored up all his power to deliver this song flawlessly. Shivers, tears,….all the feelings.
Carousel as a story is a bit of a crazy notion these days. I mean….it’s a story about a grumpy, out of work down and out who hit his wife and tried to steal from an innocent man. But the message is there and it’s so important. Even though Billy could be bad, Julie loved him. Even though Billy acted like he didn’t care….. he really did. We all love people despite the fact that they may have done something bad to us in our lives. Billy was a good man who made a few mistakes along the way. I don’t know how to condone a man who ever hit a woman….but the point to take from the story is that she loved him. Things have moved on from those days and it’s hard for people to take that this was in a film. That she could still love him after he hit her. But the message is more than that if you look real deep.
“But is it possible, Mother, for someone to hit you hard like that – real loud and hard – and not hurt at all?
It’s possible, dear – for someone to hit you – hit you hard and it not hurt at all.”
Even though the story had hard hitting issues…..it brings a message of hope. It makes you feel and think. And that cast made me feel and think. It made me want to believe. Just like the film always did. And of course, the talent of the orchestra equaled the talent on stage.
Everyone was fantastic. Alfie Boe was out of this world.
There was a gem of a line in the show that wasn’t in the film. It was said by the star keeper or heavenly friend. When Billy was asked if he wanted to go back and his reply was ‘No, it’s over.’ …..they replied back to him and said something like…..”It’s not over if someone on earth still cares about you.” I thought that was the best.
So that little miserable, funny looking three year old has grown up and walked away from the Coliseum at thirty years old as awed and inspired as she ever has been.
I’m just going to finish with one of my all time favourite songs. A message of hope, love and defiance. And no…..IT’S NOT A BLOODY FOOTBALL SONG, alright?