When Matt Bogart opens in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel this weekend in the leading male role of Billy Bigelow, he will, in a sense, be settling an old score. "I was a junior at CCM [the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music]," Bogart remembers vividly, "and they had supposedly chosen Carousel for me for my senior year. When the time came, I had a great audition for Billy--but they ended up double casting two other guys as Billy and they cast me as Jigger! I guess they thought no one else looked mean enough to play him. So, when I got this show, I called up my old professor at CCM and said, 'Guess what? I'm gonna do Billy in Carousel at Paper Mill!' He was really happy for me. I guess it took me awhile to get over that disappointment!"
The Carousel cast--which includes Glory Crampton as Julie Jordan, Christiane Noll as Carrie Pipperidge, Brandon Jovanovich as Mister Snow, and the beloved Eddie Bracken as the Starkeeper--was just about to move to Paper Mill for the final week of rehearsals when I spoke with Bogart at a press preview of a few numbers at the 890 Broadway studios. "I'm looking forward to getting on the stage," he said. "The show is going to be very environmental and situational, and I think that's great. If you've got the space, use it--especially when the house is as big as Paper Mill's."
How much of a vocal challenge is the show's famous "Soliloquy"? Says Bogart, "I've been working on pacing. It's, like, an eight-minute song--so you go hard in the sections that need to be intense, and you take it easy when you can. Tom Helm, the music director, and I have been working on it for a couple of months now, working up my stamina. That's the key. I'm feeling pretty good about it."
Bogart seemed properly awed when I told him that I had the golden opportunity to visit John Raitt, who created the role of Billy in the original, 1945 Broadway production of Carousel, at his home in California a couple of years ago. "He's definitely a model," says the young actor. Did Bogart see the Lincoln Center Theater revival of the show? "You know," he admits sheepishly, "I second-acted it a couple of times. I loved the ballet, and I loved what [director] Nicholas Hytner did to make the show a little edgier. I also saw the tour, with Patrick Wilson as Billy. He was great. I'm really glad to have the chance to do the part myself."