I n fourth grade, David Makransky donned a cowboy hat to play Woody in a Toy Story skit, put on by his elementary music director. He has taken an extended absence from Toy Story shows, but he hasn’t stopped yet.
Makransky, A&S ’17, has gone from portraying a cut-out cartoon character to a self-reflexive caricature of a leading man in Boston College’s Drowsy Chaperone his freshman year, and now in next week’s Carousel, he’ll be the star in earnest, singing and dancing to Rogers and Hammerstein while, you know, carrying the weight of life and death in what Time called the best musical of the 20th century.
Before Carousel opens next week, the Natick, Mass., native has been in (by his own estimate) 30 shows since that day in fourth grade he pulled up his boots and sung “You Got A Friend in Me.”
“I don’t remember why I was interested in theater or why I wanted to do it,” Makransky said. “I wanted to participate in my town’s drama program for as long as I can remember … and I don’t know what attracted me to it back then.”
There’s not much time, or energy, to articulate a seamless origin story when there’s a show to be made. A week before the curtain calls, Robsham is in full swing. Directed by professor Michelle Miller, Carousel is Robsham’s first production of the year. Makransky will star as the down on his luck Billy Bigelow.
The second musical Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein did together, a follow-up to Oklahoma! no less, Carousel is set in a provincial, coastal Maine town at the turn of the 19th century. It centers around carousel barker Billie, who romances a millworker—Julie Jordan. For their fleeting dip into romance, for fleeing his post, Billy is fired and soon forced to provide for both Jordan and their unborn child. After much hand wringing, Billy is looped into an attempted robbery. He is captured, and in despair, commits suicide. In the second act, Billy returns 15 years later, with the help of the Starkeeper (a heavenly official). Billy returns in hopes of helping his lonely, 15 year-old daughter who’s haunted by the memory of her father.
That may sound a bit heavy for a musical, but, in keeping with the Rodgers and Hammerstein mode, the show also boasts song and dance. It’s Makransky’s third musical at BC, after Godspell and The Drowsy Chaperone his freshman year. In Chaperone, a show-within-a-show parody of the Carousel-era of musical, Makransky played a caricature of a leading man in Robert Martin.
“What’s funny is that Carousel was written in the golden age of theater—the 1940s, 1950s—which is partly what The Drowsy Chaperone was making fun of, except that Carousel has such complicated characters and lyrics and storylines,” Makransky said.
But before returning to the main stage this year, Makransky spent last year in the Bonn Studio, in Tigers Be Still, the Shakespeare anthology Honor, Shame, and Violence, and the widely popular Legally Blonde. He also appeared in Mod of Cards. But now, he’s back on the main stage. The move is one driven more by coincidence than purpose. These have simply been the shows Makransky has been cast in at the beginning of each year, as prospective actors and casting directors take part in extensive, communal rounds of casting.
It’s also the department’s first show since the departure of some of their prominent actors—Sarah Mass, A&S ’15, and Samantha Goober, A&S ’15, who starred and played essential cogs in many popular productions over the past few years. But Makransky believes the department has been left in more than capable hands.
“New people keep coming along,” he said. “The need for an actor just like that arises and it opens up that capacity in all of us. So we’re reaching, because we know that somebody has to play roles like that now, and it brings out really amazing parts of people.”
Christy Coco, MCAS ‘17, co-stars as Julie Jordan–the millwoman who falls for Billy, and prominently features Lauren Strass and Brett Murphy, both MCAS ‘18. It’s a deep cast with talented regulars Andrew Gaffney and Ryan Cooper, both MCAS ‘16, and Amanda Melvin and Ted Kearnan, and Meghan Hornblower, all MCAS ‘17.
And they’ll join forces with Makransky onstage. But the success of the show, while surely dependent on the overall cast and production design, will likely fall on the shoulders of Makransky and his ability to make Billy both believable in his life/death dilemma as well as empathetic and compelling as Billy reaches for redemption.
Markansky explained Billy’s first half arc. “He’s a bum and he can’t do anything besides barking on a carousel, and then suddenly he’s in love and he’s got a kid on the way, and those two things don’t line up for him,” he said. “So he tries to turn his life around, and at least in his own mind he can’t.”
Markasky lowers his voice. “So he ends up committing suicide.”
And that’s only speaking of the first act, before Billy returns 15 years later as a sort of ghost/messianic missionary. And that’s a deep emotional well that Makransky has been exploring since rehearsals started in September, and will do so in front of hundreds of people from Wednesday to Sunday next week.
“I had an acting teacher once who said that ‘all you need in order to play an assassin is remembering the feeling you had while hunting a mosquito,’” he said.
Makransky uses an acting process that leans on the power of the imagination to drive and magnify emotion he needs to project on stage. Carousel calls for joy and sadness in successive beats, using one to extentuate the other. And as he explained, those are powerful movements within the story for both the actors and the audience. The relationship between the two is essentially based on it.
It’s the hope of redemption through these fairly bleak lives that seems to keep these characters chugging through the really dark, sometimes despairing moments that come up in the script.
“Here we are at Boston College, and we’re learning all of these well-rounded things and philosophies and learning to ‘set the world aflame’ and for me acting is like ‘these are human beings living privately in public who are both having a communion with each other as they present the story and with the 800 people who are watching them,’” Makransky. “And that’s fascinating to me, that you’re creating something honest and slightly different each performance and that is in that moment being received and synthesized by an audience.”
We—and he—may never know why he donned Woody’s cowboy hat back in fourth grade. But it’s easy to see why he’s kept at it after all these years
Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor
Graphic by Breck Wills / Heights Graphics