Carousel of life: A letter to Billy Bigelow

Culture Curmudgeon

Carousel at Arena Stage (L to R) Nicholas Rodriguez as Billy Bigelow and Betsy Morgan as Julie Jordan in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, running October 28-December 24, 2016. (Photo by Maria Baranova)

Ahmad Coo is a producer and copy editor for the Global Business America show on CCTV America. His analysis represents his views alone.Culture Curmudgeon Ahmad Coo

An appreciation of CAROUSEL, currently at Arena Stage in Washington, DC, running October 28-December 24, 2016.

Dear Mr. Bigelow,
 
Oh Bill, Billy, Billy-boy, you’re an insufferable idiot. You had a wonderful thing going with Julie Jordan, a child on the way, and a chance to make everything right. With all that brawn and talent you could have fought or sang your way out of any mess, but instead you chose the coward’s way out.

I never really saw your carnival barker skills, but going by the way your former employer talked about you, I could tell you were world class. However, those skills didn’t really amount to much. You were a beautiful man and you relied on your looks to ensnare and use unsuspecting girls.

Of course I have no idea or knowledge about life in the U.S. right after World War II. But your story isn’t anything new. If anything, it’s repeated itself since time immemorial. It’s the story of a man with big city dreams who lacked the means to make them come true. You, Bill, are among the millions of suckers who tried to get rich quick.

You were supposed to be a cautionary tale for us to shake our heads at, but Mr. Rodgers and Mr. Hammerstein’s production elevated you to the level of a tragic hero. The restaging your life as a musical was a sight to behold. Washington D.C.’s Arena Stage was transformed into a circus ring of sorts where your life and the lives of others unfolded.

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel

L to R) Kurt Boehm, Nicole Wildy, Thomas Adrian Simpson, Rayanne Gonzales and Ethan Kasnett in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel. (Photo by Maria Baranova)

The actor who played you, Nicholas Rodriguez, was a man among men, armed with a quick smile and heavenly pipes. Boy, could he sing. It’s no surprise that women fell head over heels for you. Unfortunately, you weren’t gifted with intelligence. I guess God can’t give you everything.

Still, your early flirtations and courtship of Julie Jordan had the audience’s hearts aflutter. She didn’t stand a chance. You said and did the right things. Soon enough you guys were married. But that honeymoon period could never last. Your treatment of her and your endless carousing with your shady friends just confirmed my fears that you were about to become the worst thing that ever happened to Julie.

But your poor wife persisted and gave you more chances than you deserved. And you broke her heart every single time. Her friends disapproved and urged her to leave you but she didn’t listen. You made her a tragic figure as well, and undeservedly so.

Because of your rebellious ways, you couldn’t hold a job down. Even in your wife’s pregnancy, she had to work to support you. But everyone could see that your struggles to find a well-paying job to support your growing family was eating you up inside. The desperation in your eyes was all too apparent.

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel

(L to R) Kyle Schliefer as Jigger Craigin, with Nicholas Rodriguez as Billy Bigelow, in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel at Arena Stage. (Photo by Maria BaranovA)

That’s why it was almost inevitable that you’d be easily seduced by a criminally-minded colleague to do something that you thought would secure your future. You remind me of so many fools- some of them are even family and good friends. Most of us in the audience knew where your life was headed and it made us sad for you, your wife and your unborn child.

But your life onstage was a beautiful production. Carousel transported me to a post-war America that I have scant knowledge of. The way people spoke during your time amused me to no end. I’m pretty sure you swore like sailors like us but even if you did speak harshly, your speech was respectful in the end. I can’t say the same of the world today, especially in the U.S. The way people talk in this era makes me suspect that there’s been a death of thought for most of the population here. But I’ll save that discussion for another time.

I also found remarkable that life in post World War II America seemed so much simpler. No one had mobile phones or screens that distracted them from life around them. People  in your era probably had more thoughtful conversations. Even more astounding, people actually wrote letters by hand to one another! I used to do that with some of my friends back in the day until email and the mobile phone conquered the world. To be honest I prefer writing my letters to texting I really didn’t have a proper smartphone until five years ago. Unfortunately, I think the way we talk to each other will devolve further, especially with the way people regard each other with fear in this country.

I had a chance to meet my great grandfather in my youth. He actually fought in World War II in the Philippines on the side of the Americans. He, too, was named Billy. He was a simple man and carried himself with a quiet dignity that seems so lacking in the world today. At times, I wondered whether I would’ve liked to have been in that world. I wish I had spoken to him more about his life back then but when you’re nine years old, play is all you have in mind.

You were a tragic figure to the very end. In your drive to secure a better future for your family, you took too many risks. It’s been several decades- 70, to be exact- since Carousel first premiered. I’m hoping the afterlife has been kinder to you and your family. I can’t really reveal how the musical about your life concludes because I still have readers who want to see it. All I can say is that for all the ugliness you went through, there was some beauty and light at the end of the tunnel.
 
Best regards, 
Culture Curmudgeon
 
PS – Obviously Billy Bigelow is a fictional character in Rodger and Hammerstein’s classic musical Carousel, currently playing at Washington D.C.’s Arena Stage Theater. Any similarities to a real person’s life is completely coincidental.


CAROUSEL at Washington, DC’s Arena Stage