Well what more could you want from a musical? Set in a patriarchal, New England town in the 1930s, Carousel has it all. The hunky male protagonist…who turns out to be a bit of an arse, complete with a hopelessly naïve and sentimental wife, plus an all-singing, all dancing cast with a nice little bit of life-after-death thrown in for good measure.

Billy Bigelow is the main male character in Carousel. He is everything you could never want in a man – promiscuous, arrogant and as we discover later on account of his wife, a bit too loose with his fists. But as the plot goes on, his good looks along with his great singing voice and childlike anticipation of fatherhood is almost enough to endear you to him. Almost.

After getting the boot from his job at the Carousel for eyeing up the first pretty young thing that comes his way (enter Julie Jordan, his future wife), we watch as his life quickly descends into a downward spiral after getting mixed up with the local ne’er do wells.

Julie Jordan, a local millworker, is portrayed as a somewhat naïve and forgiving figure and marries Billy who is by now a jobless player who slaps his wife around the face whenever the going gets tough. By today’s standards, one might be tempted to question the ethics of airbrushing a hard – but apparently not painful – slap to the face, but then again, we are talking about a period of time when the women’s movement hadn’t quite kicked off yet.

But the audience is eventually treated to the more human side of Billy with an emotional rendition of My Boy Bill, when he learns that he got his wife knocked up.

Meanwhile Julie’s friend, Carrie Pipperidge, gives a hilarious and skilful rendition of her love affair with a Mr Enoch Snow. Despite reeking of fish, Mr Snow turns out to be her knight in shining armour and romance blossoms; even if it was a bit shaken by an unwelcome interjection by a shady character called “Jigger”. Jigger is the local jailbird who makes his move on Carrie, who’s a bit of a girl-next-door type, if a little gullible and unsuspecting.

After repeatedly resisting attempts by jigger to lure him into a stick-up robbery, we see the tragic demise of Billy after the pressures of fatherhood and the possibility of having a girl, finally convinces him to take the plunge. When their rouse is rumbled by police, Jigger, who’d spent most of the evening conning Billy out of money on a card game quickly makes his escape, while Billy, who is not quite fast enough, is left to face the music. Unfortunately or fortunately – depending on how much he’s riled you up during the show – Billy chooses suicide over the prospect of a 20-year jail stint.

And there it felt like the plot unwittingly switched from a 1930s misery-memoir into a modern-day comment on Harlem ghettos and council estates. It seems, that the reasons why people get sucked into a life of crime are pretty much universal and timeless and this helped to put it one notch above a standard musical.

Now I’m not usually a big fan of musicals, especially not, dare I say it an opera musical. But despite there being parts of the plot that seemed a bit ambiguous and random (clam bake anyone?), the drama took yet another unexpected twist when the deceased Billy Bigelow once again enters the stage…but this time as a ghost. Sort of.

Now here’s where it really gets going. For it was the second half of the show that had the real meat. Here, Billy in a rather shoddy attempt to make up for his misgivings, is given one more chance by the heavenly forces to atone for his sins by coming to the rescue of his daughter Louise, 15 years later.

Louise, a ballet dancer who is hugely unpopular amongst her peers – thanks to the legacy of her dad who is forever known as a thief – gets a rather cryptic visit from Billy. Can you believe it? He literally steals a star from heaven to give to his daughter, but ends up slapping her around the face instead when she tells him to get stuffed. Oh dear I think we see a bit of a pattern developing here…

Wait it gets better. For just as you think that Billy is doomed to spend eternity in the hands of the devil he somehow makes up for it by letting his wife and daughter know how much he loves them and that everything will work out.

Now if it all sounds just a little bit loopy, that’s because it is. To be honest, I didn’t quite get it either, and I wasn’t too sure that saying “I love you” after hijacking one of God’s stars would cut it in theological terms. I dread to think what the local priest would say!

But there, without even knowing it, what started out as a standard musical opera has suddenly turned into a philosophical, drama-packed free-for-all. Forgiveness was the name of the game in the plot and although it was hard to get the audience to sympathise with some of the male characters in the musical, it didn’t give any easy solutions. Instead it left you with more questions than answers. Personally, I like that kinda thing.

Still, if you’re not into all that philosophical stuff, or if the plot is just a little too shaky for you, then the singing alone will rival anything you might come across on the X Factor. And the funky dance moves were so out-of-this world that even an opera-phobe like me was left was wishing for more.

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