After 20 Years, Paula Flautt's Vision for CAROUSEL Opens at Nashville's Christ Presbyterian Academy

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Some 67 years after Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel first opened at Broadway's Majestic Theatre, director Paula Y. Flatt will unveil her vision for the show-which was named by Time magazine in 1999 as the best musical of the 20th century-in a new production featuring her students at Nashville's Christ Presbyterian Academy.

For Flautt, it's been a 20-year wait for her take on Carousel, the musicalized version of Molnar's Liliom that focuses on the tumultuous relationship between carousel barker Billy Bigelow and the young and vibrant Julie Jordan, so the show's opening on the same date that the historic Broadway production first opened only seems apropos.

"I've been waiting for just the right time and the right cast," Flautt explains.

And now, apparently, she believes the stars have aligned-perhaps with an assist from the starkeeper-and she assembled her cast for her long-anticipated rendition of the musical. In her dream ensemble, she has cast Meg Perdue as Julie Jordan, Patrick Eytchison as Billy Bigelow, Gabrielle Toledo of Carrie Pipperidge, Cullen Williams as Enoch Snow, Buck Wise as Jigger Craigin, Lydia Granered as Nettie Fowler, Abby Newman as Mrs. Mullins and Mary Peyton Hodges as Louise, the role, coincidentally, that was Flautt's first musical theater assignment.

The show includes the well-known songs "If I Love You," "This Was a Real Nice Clambake," "June Is Bustin' Out All Over" and "You'll Never Walk Alone," and Richard Rodgers wrote long after the show's premiere that Carousel was his favorite among all his musicals.

Flautt agrees with Time's assessment of Carousel's significance in musical theatre history, but she is the first to admit that the show is not often performed by high schools, perhaps, she admits, for the same reason she's waited so long to do it: "Carousel is incredibly challenging musically for all the leading roles-Billy, Julie, Carrie, Enoch and Nettie. To hit and sustain those notes is a feat and that is particularly true of the Billy numbers, due to the vocal development and maturation of a 17- or 18-year-old male."

An immediate hit with audiences and critics alike in 1945, Carousel was the second collaboration by the team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, following in the wake of Oklahoma!, credited by some theater historians as a seminal event in the development of American musical theater.

Carousel begins at a carnival in a quaint seaside village in 19th century Maine, where an enigmatic carousel barker (played by Eytchison)  meets a lovely millworker (Perdue). Soon, amid  clambakes, hornpipe dances, and scavenger hunts, Billy Bigelow and Julie Jordan sing "If I Loved You." Then life takes a tragic turn.

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"Handling the serious nature of this show is not a walk in the park. It takes digging in; it takes caring for what the piece is saying and the actors.  It deals with physical abuse, suicide and spiritual ramifications. It is not musical comedy-but it is musical relevance," Flautt says.

Flautt's experience with her current troupe of theater students at CPA led her to the realization that now is the perfect time for Carousel: She felt she could entrust such material to actors she had already worked with extensively in plays and musicals such as Shakespeare's Twelfth Night (selected for and performed on the Main Stage at the 2011 Tennessee Thespian Conference), The Outsiders (runner-up in the 2010 Tennessee Theatre Association One-Act Competition on October 2010 and performed on the Southeastern Theatre Conference stage in Atlanta in March 2011), You Can't Take It with You, Fiddler on the Roof, Peter Pan, Much Ado About Nothing and more.

"It is remarkable that this group of leads all have the exceptional voices needed for this challenging score, but they also individually  bring significant ingredients to the mix," Flautt suggests.  "Patrick Eytchison has the psychological understanding and emotional strength to comprehend Billy Bigelow and the work ethic to support his creation. Meg Perdue intuitively discerns the painful and hopeful places of Julie Jordan; she is fluid in her emotional transitions, and unending in her stream of creative ideas.

"Gabrielle Toledo is thoughtful, intentional, colorful and effervescent in her portrayal with strong dance abilities that bring a fresh take on the role of Carrie Pipperidge. And Cullen Williams brings a serving leadership to the group and a sincerity and clarity that shapes Enoch Snow's youthful enthusiasm as well as his grown-older sternness."

Flautt's resume as an educator, writer and director is impressive and includes her critically acclaimed adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol for Studio Tenn, which now has become a holiday tradition for both the theater company and the region's audiences. During her two decades at CPA, she has taught and mentored hundreds of students (including Toledo and Eytchison's older siblings), many of whom have gone on to major in theatre, film, visual art and other forms of the fine arts in college.

Among her former students are Matt Logan and Jake Speck, artistic director and managing director of Studio Tenn, who appeared on the CPA stage before they had careers in New York; Graham Keen, currently performing on the national tour of Young Frankenstein; Los Angeles-based actress and choreographer Ashley Anderson McCarthy (first national tour of The Wedding Singer,  a finalist on NBC's reality series Grease/You're the One That I Want! as well appearances in Studio Tenn's Hello, Dolly! and Our Town and Boiler Room Theatre's Nine); actress Ellie Sikes (Studio Tenn's The Miracle Worker, A Christmas Carol and The Glass Menagerie); actress Brooklyn Sudano (TV's My Wife and Kids and Cuts, and the films Rain and Sinners & Saints); New York University film student Esteban Pedraza, who won first prize in the Tony Blair Faith Foundations Global Film Competition, Faith Shorts, in 2010; Matt Emigh, a two-time Emmy Award-winning photographer and editor who works for Nashville Public Television; and award-winning filmmaker David Kiern (documentary Journey to Everest), who is currently in Capetown, at work on a documentary on the lives of three people who have dedicated their lives to serving the poor and sick in South Africa.

 Like the students she has mentored, Flautt is always looking for a new challenge. And that challenge presented itself last spring, when she knew realized had the makings of a cast for this groundbreaking musical that is much lauded, but rarely done.

 "Carousel was groundbreaking on many levels-there is no overture, it uses pantomime and ballet, and employs fantasy. It deals with the hard places of life in such a way as to make it a forerunner of the modern musical art form," Flautt muses. "Just as such contemporary works as Wicked, Ragtime, Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon meld substance with music, dance and theatre to speak to the human condition, so does Carousel. As Stephen Sondheim noted, 'Oklahoma is about a picnic…Carousel is about life and death.'"

Christ Presbyterian Academy Fine Arts Department presents Carousel at 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, April 19- 21, at the Event Center, Christ Presbyterian Academy, 2323-A Old Hickory Boulevard, Nashville. Tickets are $10 general admission and can be purchased at the elementary, middle school and high school reception desks, or at the door, one hour prior to show time. For further information, go to www.cpalions.org.

 

Pictured, at top: Patrick Eytchison and Meg Perdue as Billy Bigelow and Julie Jordan in Carousel at Nashville's Christ Presbyterian Academy; at bottom: Cullen Williams and Gabrielle Toledo as Enoch Snow and Carrie Pipperidge

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Jeffrey Ellis Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 25 years. He is the recipient of the Tennessee Theatre Association's Distinguished Service Award for his coverage of theatre in the Volunteer State and was the founding editor/publisher of Stages, the Tennessee Onstage Monthly. He is a past fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and is the founder/executive producer of The First Night Honors, held during Labor Day Weekend, which honor oustanding theater artists in Tennessee in recognition of their lifetime achievements and includes The First Night Star Awards and the Most Promising Actors. Midwinter's First Night, held the first Sunday in January after New Year's Day, honors outstanding productions and performances throughout the state. Further, Ellis directed the Nashville premiere of La Cage Aux Folles, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and An American Daughter, as well as award-winning productions of Damn Yankees, Company, Gypsy and The Rocky Horror Show, with Ellis honored by The Tennessean as best director of a musical for both Company and Rocky Horror.


 
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