A rarely seen award-winning musical, "Carnival," opens tonight at Gloucester Stage Company's Gorton's Theater, with a cast not only comprised of actors, but a troupe of puppets.
"It's a big story, an old-fashioned story, but the themes are timeless about young people finding their way in the world, and running into the good, the bad and the ugly," said director Eric Engel, also Gloucester Stage's artistic director. "This is certainly the biggest show I've done in my time here at Glouceser Stage. There is magic and music and balloons and puppets, and even a short appearance by a dog on stage."
The cast is large, with 14 professional actors and four local children, as well as five musicians, on violin, cello, guitar, percussion and reed.
Engel said the show is appropriate for all ages.
The musical is based on the 1953 film "Lili," from which a Broadway show was produced to open in 1961. The scenic designer won a Tony Award because of the show's special innovation and design concept. The show opens with an empty stage and the audience sees it transform into a carnival as the story evolves. This production, Engel said, is set in a post-World War II era.
The songs include the popular "Love Makes the World Go Round," and many others.
The musical, by Bob Merrill and Michael Stewart, moves between the dark and the delightful.
A main characters is Lili, a smalltown girl who is about to learn the ways of the world. Another character is a wounded war veteran who is trying to redefine himself as he tries to return to civilian society and deal with post-traumatic stress.
"The magical world of 'Carnival' overflows with compassion, humor, romance, as well as spirit-lifting melodies and soul searching ballads," said Heidi Dallin, a Gloucester Stage spokeswoman.
Engel noted that the puppets were designed in New York and made available to Gloucester Stage for this production.
"The puppets operate on two levels at the same time, one geared for adults and one geared for children," he said.
The cast includes Victoria Thornsbury as Lili, Gus Curry as Paul the puppeteer, Daniel Robert Sullivan as Marco The Magnificent, Shannon Lee Jones as the Incomparable Rosalie, Paul Farwell as Schlegel and Douglas Lockwood as Jacquot. The show also features four local students from the Gloucester Stage youth acting workshops: TS Burnham, 12, Madison McCarthy, 13, Olivia Osterman, 9 and Sara Wheeler, 11.
The musical direction is by Todd Gordon and choreography by Jodi Leigh Allen.
Gordon served as music director for many New Repertory Theatre's productions, and has won IRNE awards for Best Music Director for "Ragtime" and "Into the Woods." He is an adjunct faculty member for performing arts at Emerson College and maintains a private studio in Boston.
This is Allen's Gloucester Stage debut. She received her bachelor's degree in dance performance from Shenandoah University in Virginia and her master's degree in dance and choreography from The University of Michigan. Her credits include performing in Julie Taymor's "Die Zauberfote" (The Magic Flute) and "Romeo et Juliette" at The Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. She is a dance instructor and choreographer for Harvard University's dance program. She also is developing a Movement for Musicians program at Berklee College of Music.
Engel has been a director and arts administrator in the Boston area for more than 20 years, and is director of Memorial Hall, Sanders Theatre and college theater venues at Harvard University. He has directed more than 75 productions for numerous companies. Recently, he directed the East Coast premiere for Boston's Publick Theatre of Bill Cain's "9 Circles," a play which he will remount later this season.
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3445, or at email@example.com.
If you go
What: "Carnival," a musical
When: July 5 through 22
Where: Gloucester Stage, 267 East Main St. in Gloucester.
How much: $40, and $35 for seniors and students. There are Saturday matinees and certain discount shows for Cape Ann residents. The 3 p.m. Saturday matinee on July 7 is a special Pay What You Can matinee. The 4 p.m. performance on Sunday, July 8 includes a free post show discussion with the actors. For reservations or further information, call 978-281-4433 or visit www.gloucesterstage.org.