Would you trust a heart surgeon who's never seen an aorta? What about a man who -- after 22 years of reviewing more than 3,500 plays -- has never seen the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic Carousel, now at the Point Park Conservatory Theatre Company?
With their 1943 production of Oklahoma!, R&H defined the Golden Age of the American Musical. With subsequent shows like King and I, South Pacific and Sound of Music, they refined the genre.
I assumed this show would be like all the others. And so over the years I've passed on Carousel ... since it's about the loathsome Billy Bigelow and his insipid wife, Julie. Bill likes to beat her; Julie tells her daughter that if you love your man enough, you don't feel the pain when he hits you.
I'm all about the escapism of musical theater. But really, get a fucking clue, OK?
What I didn't know was that Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein took time out of their schedule perfecting musical theater to subvert it.
In a standard musical, there's a big ensemble number, then a small scene played in front of the curtain while the scenery is changed for the next big ensemble number.
In Carousel, the first 45 minutes (almost the entire act) is an extended duet between Julie and Billy. You, perfectly sane reader, may not realize how earthshaking that is. But when the progenitors of a style purposely explode that same style, it's fairly amazing. As are a number of interesting stylistic conceits in Act II.
Which is good. Because if you follow the hateful story, you'll want to die: When Carousel isn't offensive, it's trite. But -- and I can't stress this enough -- you're so enthralled by the theatrical daring of R&H it's easy to forget everything else.
Point Park director Jack Allison and choreographer Mark Esposito have done a remarkable thing keeping this show afloat as long as they do. It all sort of collapses toward the end, but I'm not sure how much of that is R&H's doing.
Joan Markert and Michael Thomas Essad (costume and set design) have created a wonderfully expressive palette. And this student company -- especially the fierce comedic support of Elly Noble and AJ Hunsucker -- remind you why Carousel is a classic.
Carousel continues through Sun., Nov. 15. Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland. 412-621-4445 or www.pittsburghplayhouse.com