A Love Letter To Rodger and Hammerstein's Carousel

A Love Letter To Rodger and Hammerstein's Carousel

When I heard the news of the revival closing, I knew that I wanted to do a love letter to Carousel, and I knew that I didn’t want to be sad. I am disappointed it is closing, of course, and I will try and see it before it ends, but this is not about sadness, this is about the joy and pleasure that Carousel brings me. This week I will share the aspects that I love about the musical Carousel.

The 2018 revival of Carousel is this first time that the musical has been on Broadway in more than two decades. The musical is the second time that Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II collaborated; Rodgers writing the music and Hammerstein writing the book and the lyrics. The original production in 1945 was adapted from Ferenc Molnár's 1909 Hungarian play Liliom.

Fifteen years ago, a carnival barker named Billy Bigelow, and a mill worker named Julie Jordan fell in love, this is their story. Both Julie and Billy instantly fall in love the night they meet, in fact, they both lose their jobs that night as well. Julie stayed out late and she didn’t go back home when her boss told her that she should go home, and Billy was mocking the Carousel owner.

Within months of meeting, the two are married and Julie is pregnant with their daughter Louise. Billy is unable to provide for his growing family, and he falls in with the wrong crowd, killing himself when a robbery goes wrong.

Now 16 years later, Billy is allowed to come back to Earth for one day as a way to try to redeem himself. While on Earth, Billy didn’t do enough good so he is not able to get into Heaven; his daughter Louise could be the key to Billy getting into Heaven. Billy didn’t mean to hurt anyone by the choices he made, however, he ends up hurting Louise in retrospect.

It is the characters that are my favorite part of this musical. What I love most about them is the fact they’re real people because they’re flawed; they’re imperfect and they are okay with their own imperfections. What I commend Billy for is being openly himself, and not changing the way that he is because other people think that he should. In the end, Billy stabs himself during a failed robbery, but he did try to help his family in the process; albeit, misguidedly. Julie is less imperfect, but I would not call her immaculate because she didn’t take the warnings various people gave her, including her best friend Carrie, about the roustabout Billy. She didn’t leave Billy most likely because she was blinded by her love for him.  I would say that the most flawed character in the musical is Jigger Craigin, friend to Billy.

The music and lyrics are a piece of why I call this one of favorite Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. With Carousel, I find that the music and lyrics work well to bring out the best in each other, and they help to enhance the story. The score is grand on its own, but with the addition of the lyrics that make you feel for these characters, you have a truly memorable musical.

The plot of the production is special; I'm not saying that it is different from a lot of other instant love stories, although, it does have something that makes it unique since a good part of the story takes place after the death of the leading man. Julie and Billy came from two different worlds, which is a theme that is common in many love stories. This is also a musical about family, even bringing in multiple generations. I think that the phrase “you do for family” is very prevalent in this musical. At the core, this is just as much of a story about family as it is about finding love. Going hand in hand with that, I just adore the friendship between Carrie and Julie. In a way, I think that they see each other as an extension of each other’s family, they even raise their kids together, and I find it so refreshing to see the portrayal of this close community.

If you would like to see this production live, go see the revival at the Imperial Theatre on Broadway before they close on September 16th, 2018.  

(Photo credit: Julieta Cervantes)