Carnival!

Pericles

The Grouch

The Illusion

Enrico IV

The Tempest

A Midwinter Night's Dream
 

Carnival!
Music & Lyrics by Bob Merrill, Book by Michael Stewart
Based on material by Helen Deutsch


Director's Message

Photo © Gerry Goodstein
On CARNIVAL! and Carnivals

For centuries, the world of the carnival has fascinated mankind. A "moveable feast" of revelry, oddity and entertainments both magical and bizarre, the world of the carnival also elicits the feeling that lurking beneath the surface of the laughter, glitter and showmanship is a darker realm. Carnivals are peopled by misfits, bohemians and a brotherhood of often-fragile souls who lead a transient, more exotic and less certain existence than those of us in the "normal" world.

While we may dream of running off to the circus, most of us do not, for deep inside we know the harsh realities of that life belie the mask of gaiety and glamour that the carnival wears. It is indeed what lies behind the masks that make the American musical CARNIVAL! so fascinating and moving a piece of theatre.

We first see the performers in all the glory of their public personas. Slowly, over the course of the play, the proverbial curtains part to reveal the doppelgangers and alter egos that each of the characters carry about to shield themselves not only from the sometimes brutal world they inhabit, but also from the personal demons that haunt them. As the "masks" are lowered, vulnerability, pain and anguish are revealed. Happily, in this particular carnival, some of those demons are vanquished by a stranger -- a woman who wears a mask of her own: that of a child. Ultimately, her pure vision of life and her innocence prove to be powerful forces that allow true magic to occur. Rage, bitterness, disappointment, despair and cruelty are dispelled and transformed by love.

-- Bonnie J. Monte

"...a world where everything is the biggest, or greatest, tiniest, or most horrifying."

-- Leslie Fiedler, Freaks

"...a carnival works because people pay to feel amazed and scared. They can nibble around a midway getting amazed here and scared there, or both. And do you know what else? Hope, hope they'll win a prize, break the jackpot, meet a girl, hit a bull's eye in front of their buddies. In a carnival you call it luck or chance, but it's the same as hope."

-- Katherine Dunn, Geek Love

"The mask, like the sideshow freak, is not so much pictorial as participatory in its sensory appeal."

-- Marshall McLuhan

"A carnival in daylight is an unfinished beast....Rain makes it a ghost. The wheezing music from the empty, motionless rides in a soggy, rained-out afternoon midway always hit my chest with a sweet ache. The colored dance of the lights in the seeping air flashed the puddles in the sawdust with an oily glamour."

-- Katherine Dunn, Geek Love

"It's a world that is never really surprised at anything, where a man can say quite casually, 'What this country needs is a frozen whale,' then go out and freeze one."

-- Arthur H. Lewis, Carnival

"Times were hard and, through no fault of young Al's, business began to decline. Five years after Grandpa died, the once-flourishing carnival was folding. The show was burdened with an aging lion that repeatedly broke expensive dentures by gnawing the bars of his cage; demands for cost-of-living increases from the fat lady, whose food supply was written into her contract; and the midnight defection of an entire family of animal eroticists, taking their donkey, goat and Great Dane with them."

-- Katherine Dunn, Geek Love

"What the carnival offered went beyond mere entertainment; by paying a few cents of the entrance fee one could glimpse a world which transgressed the outer limits of reason and experience. It was a world where overwhelming excess and the exotic 'other,' inhabited by immensely fat men and women; 'Glomming Geeks' who ate live snakes; African witch doctors; alligator girls; three-legged football players; and 'The World's Strangest Girls.'"

-- Dale Slusser, Freaks, Geeks & Strange Women

"It was as though suddenly a vista of heaven had opened for Mouche. For she loved them already, all of these queer, compelling little individuals who each, in a few brief moments, had captured her imagination or tugged at her heartstrings. To make believe forever ? or as the day was long ? to escape from reality into this unique world of fantasy*" ? Paul Gallico, Love of Seven Dolls

"This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine."

-- Prospero, The Tempest

"...what is denied is desired."

-- Dale Slusser, Freaks, Geeks & Strange Girls

"Love makes the world go round."

-- Bob Merrill, author of lyrics in Carnival!

The History of the Musical CARNIVAL!
Puppets of all kinds were a prevalent part of American pop culture from the late 1940s all the way through the 1960s. Beginning with Howdy Doody, a parade of sharp-witted and loveable characters captured the nation's imagination and heart for many years, including Kukla, Fran and Ollie, Lamb Chop, Topo Gigio, Se*or Wences, Knucklehead and Charlie McCarthy. After a brief period of puppet silence, the Muppets hit the scene in the early '70s and have ruled the "booth" ever since.

In October of 1950, the Saturday Evening Post published a short story by Paul Gallico called "The Man Who Hated People," clearly inspired by the television show Kukla, Fran and Ollie and its creators Burr Tillstrom and Fran Allison. The story told the tale of a fictional T.V. show featuring an endearing cast of puppets and their human co-star, Milly. The puppeteer was a misanthropic former sports star who had been disfigured in a hockey accident. He falls in love with Milly but is only able to communicate his feelings through his puppets. The story veers toward a tragic conclusion until its very last moments, when Milly realizes that it is the puppeteer she truly loves. Hollywood studio M.G.M. became interested in purchasing the film rights, but felt the story too blatantly referred to the popular Kukla, Fran and Ollie show. Consequently, Gallico rewrote and expanded the story to a 90-page novella, now titled Love of Seven Dolls, transferring the setting to a seedy, declining carnival in France. In doing so, it became a much darker tale involving rape, violence and schizophrenia. While compelling, it became even less appropriate for M.G.M., who wanted to create a family film from the story.

The studio hired Helen Deutsch to adapt the story for a Hollywood movie musical and the result was Lili, which retained many elements of the original stories but emerged a "kinder, gentler" piece of work. Starring Leslie Caron, Mel Ferrer, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Jean-Pierre Aumont, it was a huge success. Subsequently, Broadway producer David Merrick acquired the stage rights to Deutsch's screenplay and Carnival! was born. The show opened in April of 1961 to rave reviews and ran 720 performances, garnering numerous New York Critics Circle Awards and a slew of Tony nominations. Anna Maria Alberghetti won for Best Actress in a Musical, and Will Armstrong for Best Set. From a television-inspired short story to a dark, mordant novella to a whimsical, dream-like film to a Broadway extravaganza and to the current re-envisioned production here at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey? the story of Lili, Paul the puppeteer, and the all-too-human puppets that bind them has fascinated and moved audiences for over four decades with its universal themes of self-revelation, vulnerability and the power of love to heal the crippled psyche.

-- Bonnie J. Monte

 

 



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