Q&A with ‘Carousel’ Director Johnny Hebda

After three productions that were Utah premieres (Side Show, i love you because, and What the Bellhop Saw), why is the company taking on an ages-old show like Carousel?

As part of our mission statement, we strive to produce shows that are not too often produced in Utah or premieres. We particularly select shows that have powerful messages and challenge people to think. Carousel was the perfect choice to be included in our season as it is an incredible story that hasn’t had a major production in nearly a decade. I think that Utah audiences will relate to the themes of redemption and faith that are prevalent in the story.

Isn’t this an ambitious undertaking for a young company?

Yes it is. And there have definitely been plenty of challenges in the process. But its through challenges that we will grow and improve as a company. I have never steered away from big undertakings and anyone that knows me as a director would definitely describe me as an ambitious. However, I have found Carousel  to be a bit easier over-all compared with our debut production of SIDE SHOW. And with the talented leads that we have in the production, I have full confidence that this will be an incredible production.

Are their unique features to Utah Rep’s production?

Yes. There are a lot of heavy themes in the story of Carousel . I have tried to embrace those themes rather than avoid them as it’s through those themes that repentance and redemption becomes so much more poignant. It is impossible to appreciate the good without experiencing the bad. The characters in Carousel are imperfect people, they are human, living in a challenging time and place. I have tried to create the realism of the time period in the design and directing. The costuming and sets help embrace this concept with earth tone colors and a gritty and realistic style to the design elements. Abuse, love, passion, carnal desire are every bit as important and relevant topics to address as faith, forgiveness, and enduring to the end. Carousel is a powerfully written story with multifaceted characters and a storyline that stands the test of time with its relevance and universal truths.

Why do you think Broadway World called Utah Rep “the state’s most exciting up-and-coming theater company”?

I think Broadway World finds Utah Rep’s ambition and willingness to produce lesser known works or plays and musicals that deal with sometimes difficult or uncomfortable subject matter to be refreshing and needed in the state. Though we never select productions to shock our audiences, there are many great works that have never made their way to the state. These are stories that need to be told. And one of the most powerful things that theater can do is serve as a vehicle to change people’s thinking and increase empathy and compassion as audience members experience a culture or way of life that is very different than their own. Utah has one of the strongest theater communities in the U.S. Utahns love live theater and have an inherent appreciation for the arts. However, we too often see the same recycled productions over and over because they are safe and comfortable. I believe that Broadway World recognized the need for Utah Rep within the community, as we dare to venture outside the norm and bring some of the most powerful stories to the state that Utahns generally would have to travel great distances to enjoy.