I hope you are enjoying the weekend with family and friends.
Carousel is the second stage musical by the team of Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (book and lyrics). The work premiered in 1945 and was adapted from Ferenc Molnár’s 1909 play Liliom, transplanting its Budapest setting to the Maine coastline. The story revolves around carousel barker Billy Bigelow, whose romance with millworker Julie Jordan comes at the price of both their jobs. He attempts a robbery to provide for Julie and their unborn child; when it goes wrong, he has a chance to make things right. A secondary plot line deals with millworker Carrie Pipperidge and her romance with ambitious fisherman Enoch Snow. The show includes the well-known songs “If I Loved You”, “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. Richard Rodgers later wrote that Carousel was his favorite among all his musicals.
Following the spectacular success of the first Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Oklahoma! (1943), the pair sought to collaborate on another piece, knowing that any resulting work would be compared with Oklahoma!, most likely unfavorably. They were initially reluctant to seek the rights to Liliom; Molnár had refused permission for the work to be adapted in the past, and the original ending was considered too depressing for the musical theatre. After acquiring the rights, the team created a work with lengthy sequences of music and made the ending more hopeful.
The musical required considerable modification during out-of-town tryouts, but once it opened on Broadway on April 19, 1945, it was an immediate hit with both critics and audiences. Carousel initially ran for 890 performances and duplicated its success in the West End in 1950. Though it has never achieved as much commercial success as Oklahoma!, the piece has been repeatedly revived, and has been recorded several times. A production by Nicholas Hytner enjoyed success in 1992 in London, in 1994 in New York and on tour. In 1999, Time magazine named Carousel the best musical of the 20th century.
Casting and tryoutsThe casting for Carousel began when Oklahoma!’s production team, including Rodgers and Hammerstein, was seeking a replacement for the part of Curly (the male lead in Oklahoma!). Lawrence Langner had heard, through a relative, of a California singer named John Raitt, who might be suitable for the part. Langner went to hear Raitt, then urged the others to bring Raitt to New York for an audition. Raitt asked to sing Largo al factotum, Figaro’s song from The Barber of Seville, to warm up. The warmup was sufficient to convince the producers that not only had they found a Curly, they had found a Liliom (or Billy Bigelow, as the part was renamed). Theresa Hepburn made another California discovery, Jan Clayton, a singer/actress who had made a few minor films for MGM. She was brought east and successfully auditioned for the part of Julie.
The producers sought to cast unknowns. Though many had played in previous Hammerstein or Rodgers works, only one, Jean Casto (cast as carousel owner Mrs. Mullin, and a veteran of Pal Joey), had ever played on Broadway before. It proved harder to cast the ensemble than the leads, due to the war—Rodgers told his casting director, John Fearnley, that the sole qualification for a dancing boy was that he be alive. Rodgers and Hammerstein reassembled much of the creative team that had made Oklahoma! a success, including director Rouben Mamoulian and choreographer Agnes de Mille. Miles White was the costume designer while Jo Mielziner (who had not worked on Oklahoma!) was the scenic and lighting designer. Even though Oklahoma! orchestrator Russell Bennett had informed Rodgers that he was unavailable to work on Carousel due to a radio contract, Rodgers insisted he do the work in his spare time. He orchestrated “The Carousel Waltz” and “(When I Marry) Mister Snow” before finally being replaced by Don Walker. A new member of the creative team was Trude Rittman, who arranged the dance music. Rittman initially felt that Rodgers mistrusted her because she was a woman, and found him difficult to work with, but the two worked together on Rodgers’ shows until the 1970s.
Oscar Hammerstein IIRehearsals began in January 1945; either Rodgers or Hammerstein was always present. Raitt was presented with the lyrics for “Soliloquy” on a five-foot long sheet of paper—the piece ran nearly eight minutes. Staging such a long solo number presented problems, and Raitt later stated that he felt that they were never fully addressed. At some point during rehearsals, Molnár came to see what they had done to his play. There are a number of variations on the story. As Rodgers told it, while watching rehearsals with Hammerstein, the composer spotted Molnár in the rear of the theatre and whispered the news to his partner. Both sweated through an afternoon of rehearsal in which nothing seemed to go right. At the end, the two walked to the back of the theatre, expecting an angry reaction from Molnár. Instead, the playwright said enthusiastically, “What you have done is so beautiful. And you know what I like best? The ending!” Hammerstein wrote that Molnár became a regular attendee at rehearsals after that.
Like most of the pair’s works, Carousel contains a lengthy ballet, “Billy Makes a Journey”, in the second act, as Billy looks down to the Earth from “Up There” and observes his daughter. In the original production, and in the film, the ballet was choreographed by de Mille. As originally written, de Mille’s ballet lasted an hour and fifteen minutes. It began with Billy looking down from heaven at his wife in labor, with the village women gathered for a “birthing”. The ballet involved every character in the play, some of whom spoke lines of dialogue, and contained a number of subplots. The focus was on Louise, played by Bambi Linn, who at first almost soars in her dance, expressing the innocence of childhood. She is teased and mocked by her schoolmates, and Louise becomes attracted to the rough carnival people, who symbolize Billy’s world. A youth from the carnival attempts to seduce Louise, as she discovers her own sexuality, but he decides she is more girl than woman, and he leaves her. After Julie comforts her, Louise goes to a children’s party, where she is shunned. The carnival people reappear and form a ring around the children’s party, with Louise lost between the two groups. At the end, the performers form a huge carousel with their bodies.