Pappas and Brennan talk about Carousel, Redemption and Musical Theater Opera
We sat down recently with Tony-Award nominee Maureen Brennan and leading man-turned Artistic Director Evan Pappas to discuss how things are shaping up for Carousel (July 27-31) now that rehearsals are underway.
Evan returns as stage director for his fifth Opera North production, Carousel; and Mo as Guest Artist for Carousel is enjoying a reunion with both Evan P and Evans Haile, who most recently brought her into a production of The Music Man as Mrs. Paroo – a character whose wisdom she sees in both her roles as Mrs. Mullin and Starkeeper.
First off, they are both enjoying the chance to work together again, something that started when they paired as the Cratchit parents in a North Shore Music Theater production of A Christmas Carol.
“We are the luckiest people in the world,” said Evan as Mo completed his sentence: “To do what we love!” Then Evan continued, “I’m a director that loves actors and works to provide a safe, wonderful, creative space for them to have fun while making art.”
Of the current class of Opera North Resident Artists, he says, “They’re sponges! I have to say this group is special. The chemistry is fantastic. They’re working hard and they’re game to do just about anything. [Opera North] is such great experience and working with Louis is such a nurturing ground for them. They’re also excited to discover what good actors must do and they’re open to direction. There’s SO much dialogue in Carousel.”
For example, there is not a single note sung by Mrs. Mullin or Starkeeper and Mo welcomes the opportunity to act. “Working in musical theater you’re not always taken as seriously, to be considered ‘an actor.’”
“But we’re lucky to be working in crossover roles,” said Evan. “These opera singers are digging this. Too often opera seems to be playing emotion, not playing action. They’re not always taught acting, but the role is to strike, to lure, to connect, to explain Very Meisner-esque [where actors take inspiration from the others around them].”
“We are act-ors,” said Mo. “We’re verbs. And it’s fun to work to change how they approach a role.”
For Mo herself, who has never played either Mrs. Mullin or Starkeeper, though she’s done “five or six Carousels as Carrie Pipperidge,” this production is “a blank slate.”
“I’m working on my New England, my Maine accent,” she said. “But I don’t often get to play ‘the heavy.’ Mrs. Mullin is nasty – that’s new for me. She’s motivated by her own desires – she’s just trying to run a carousel! – but I have a feeling she may know how Julie feels, her husband may have abused her.”
“It’s tough to present that side of Billy, especially now,” said Evan. “But he’s so remorseful. Billy is a victim of circumstance. That’s the humanity in him. He’s charismatic -- and Elliott Litherland [as Billy] is so dynamic! This is the third time I’ve worked with him and he’s just such a good human. Everyone wants a piece of Billy, leading him down the wrong path.”
Having the same actor portray both Mrs. Mullin and Starkeeper provides a contrast but a parallel that leads to redemption. “While Billy has trouble on earth with the female authority figure that is Mrs. Mullin, he’s willing to listen to Starkeeper because she offers wisdom without being judgmental. She wants him to find his second chance,” said Mo.
Both Evan and Mo see Carousel as Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s opera. “There’s a problem to solve, an objective to reach,” said Mo.
“This is a classic human drama, these are real people dealing with complex relationships,” said Evan. “Without the conflict – that gravitates us to see the turmoil between Julie and Billy – there’s no story.”
In terms of the show itself, Evan observed, “This was the one of the first where the music underscores the dialogue, that intertwines the spoken dialogue with song. The scene work is operatic. What we’re now calling ‘the dock scene’ – when Billy and Julie sing ‘If I Loved You’ -- is musical theater opera. The score is so ridiculously gorgeous and the orchestrations are stunning. The classical opera loyalists know this show. It’s a classic and it doesn’t get any better than this!”
As for whether Carousel stands the test of time compared to more recent musicals both Evan and Mo have worked, Mo said, “I do believe people are put in your path by some greater or divine intelligence for a reason. There are opportunities to learn and to teach. [Like Billy] some people are flawed or uncomfortable. But the universe always offers a second chance.” Both see the divine intervention of Starkeeper as a parallel to Clarence the angel in “It’s a Wonderful Life” (which came first in 1939 and probably helped inspire the character in Carousel in 1945).
In the end, as Opera North devotees of classic opera understand, redemption can come at a price. But as a friend of Evan’s once said and he is fond of repeating, “There’s no human problem that can’t be solved by a Rodgers and Hammerstein song.”