Carousel at Arena Stage

Photo by Maria Baranova

We are lucky to have so many choices for world-class local theater here in the DC area, and one of the premiere sources of live performances is Arena Stage. It’s latest revival of a classic musical is a must-see, either with an older child (teenager) or on a date night with your significant other or theater-pal friends.

The 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical follows the doomed love story of carnival barker Billy Bigelow (Nicholas Rodriguez) and mill worker Julie Jordan (Betsy Morgan). Billy isn’t the marrying type, but there’s something special about Julie, and she thinks the world of Billy — even after he hits her. Yes, he hits her, and it’s a major part of the characterization and the plot of the musical.  Their romance came at the expense of both of their jobs (a married carnival barker loses his appeal, and the millworkers are all supposed to be respectable).

When Billy’s ex-con friend offers an illegal chance at easy money, Billy at first declines, until he realizes he and Julie really do need a leg up. Things, as you can imagine, don’t necessarily go well.

The leads are both wonderful. Rodriguez in particular gives an unforgettable performance as the conflicted Billy, who is difficult for audiences to crack. By today’s standards he could easily be dismissed as irredeemable, but there’s more to Billy, and his story is one of sacrifice and second chances. Julie Jordan is indeed a “weird one,” who sees so much in a man that others dismiss and decry.

The songs to remember in Carousel include the beautiful duet “If I Loved You” and the show-stopper “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” but many other numbers are also fabulous, like “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over” and “What’s the Use of Wond’rin’?.” The ensemble dances are a thrill. The choreography, the setting, the fact there isn’t a bad seat in the house, all of that makes a show at Carousel a pleasure.

Even though Carousel has mature themes, you can definitely see it with a teen and have good conversations afterward to discuss the issues. I saw it with my 12-year-old, and she and I had an open mother-daughter discussion about abuse and the context of when the musical was set. I highly recommend the show, especially if you’re a fan of seeing examples of the Great American Musical.

Carousel at Arena StageDon’t just take our word for it. Here’s what the Washington Post had to say about the show:

Director Molly Smith, in the most assured work of her decade and a half at Arena, delivers a physically, musically and rhetorically impressive production…And with its exquisite songbook – “If I Loved You,” “Mister Snow,” “A Real Nice Clambake” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” among the glories – the musical is one heart-melting moment after another.

— Peter Marks

Carousel is on stage at Arena Stage now through Dec. 24. Buy tickets.

Watch a behind-the-scenes look at Carousel:

  Know Before You Go:

  • Mead Center Parking: The entrance to the parking garage is accessible from the northbound lane of Maine Avenue. Subscribers and single-ticket purchasers may purchase parking in advance by calling the Sales Office at 202-488-3300. The subscriber rate for parking is $16 per performance. Single ticket purchasers may reserve in advance for $19 per parking space. Advance reservations and rates discontinue 3 hours prior to curtain. Any parking available on the day of the performance will be sold at the garage on a first-come, first-served basis for $22. Handicapped parking may also be purchased in advance with a copy of a valid handicap parking tag. The garage is open from 10 a.m. until 1 hour after the end of the performance. Reserve here
  • Discounted parking is available for $12 at 1101 Fourth Street, SW. Enter at 1101 Fourth Street, across from the Safeway.
    The garage is a short walk around the corner to the Mead Center for American Theater at 1101 Sixth Street. The lot is available on a first-come, first-served basis on the day of the event only, and payment will be collected at that time. Please visit the Visitors Services Desk as you exit the Mead Center to have your parking ticket validated if you entered the parking garage before 5:00 p.m. on a weekday. After 5:00 p.m. weekdays, or all day on weekends, you may now prepay for your parking at the ‘Pay Station’ in the garage for only $12.
  • New off-site parking option (recommended for weekday matinees): For all performances, parking is available at 25 M Street SW, just off South Capitol Street. Parking at this location costs $20 and includes a direct shuttle to Arena Stage. Shuttles run approximately every 10 minutes.
  • Catwalk Cafe: Treat yourself to a convenient prix fixe meal of tasty selections. Enjoy choice of soup or salad, main entrée and dessert — all for just $25 ($22 when you pre-order, $20 if you’re an Arena Stage subscriber). Available two hours before the show. Call 202-488-3300 or click here