Southeast Missouri State University students give 'Carousel' a whirl at Bedell

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

With the help of a New York City-based director, Southeast Missouri State University students are bringing a Rodgers and Hammerstein classic to the River Campus.

The Department of Theater and Dance at Southeast will present the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "Carousel" this week at Bedell Performance Hall.

The show's director, Dennis Courtney, said even though the show debuted in the 1940s and takes place during the 1870s, the theme resonates today. While Rodgers and Hammerstein also wrote "Oklahoma!," "The Sound of Music," and other musicals, "Carousel" is a little different from their other work.

"It is actually their favorite show that they wrote, because it is a little bit darker subject matter," Courtney said. "The people in the show are not perfect. It is really a beautiful, beautiful story of how people in the community overcome hardship. We're going through a tough period now. People get by."

Courtney travels the country directing musical theater. He said the students at Southeast are "fantastic" and the department has a bright future.

"I would say that this is one of the up-and-coming programs for musical theater in the country," he said.

While the musical is filled with many iconic tunes, perhaps the most popular, "You Never Walk Alone," holds special meaning for the show's vocal director, Judith Farris. Although an opera singer, Farris performed the song and the role of Nettie at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

"The Rodgers and Hammerstein Foundation decided it was going to do this production," she said. "Every person in it had to audition for both families. They had called specifically for me. Why or how, I am not sure, but I do know that role is often done by an opera singer."

After performing the role, Farris returned to New York City, where she continued to perform and teach. As a native of Cape Girardeau, she eventually made the decision to return home.

"This community has been good to me, and I wanted to give back," she said. "Not being a rock singer, I couldn't do it with a huge financial contribution to Southeast. I did it with what means I had, my expertise in singing."

Farris returns to New York once a month to teach students she still has in the city.

"Carousel" is the largest musical the department has produced.

"It is really massive for a department our size," Farris said. "It is a traditional Broadway musical. I am grateful that we have such a great group of students who are capable, now, of doing such a massive, difficult show. I am grateful for our wonderful faculty who has led them to this point as actors. We have great musicians, a wonderful choreographer, great set and costume designers.

The show has been a learning experience for the cast of 48 students.

"It is all about helping these students," Farris said. "A lot of these students, if they have sung before, it is in their high school production. Many have not sung before. I am very proud of all of them."

"Carousel" will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $16 to $19 and are available by calling the River Campus box office at 651-2265

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