Original Broadway poster (1945)
|Book||Oscar Hammerstein II|
Carousel is the second
Following the spectacular success of the first
The musical required considerable modification during out-of-town tryouts, but once it opened on
Except for the ending, the plots of Liliom and Carousel are very similar. Andreas Zavocky (nicknamed Liliom, the Hungarian word for "lily", a slang term for "tough guy"), a carnival
On his return to Earth, Liliom encounters his daughter, Louise, who like her mother is now a factory worker. Saying that he knew her father, he tries to give her a star he stole from the heavens. When Louise refuses to take it, he strikes her. Not realizing who he is, Julie confronts him, but finds herself unable to be angry with him. Liliom is ushered off to his fate, presumably Hell, and Louise asks her mother if it is possible to feel a hard slap as if it was a kiss. Julie reminiscently tells her daughter that it is very possible for that to happen.
An English translation of Liliom was credited to
And where in modern dramatic literature can such pearls be matched—Julie incoherently confessing to her dead lover the love she had always been ashamed to tell; Liliom crying out to the distant carousel the glad news that he is to be a father; the two thieves gambling for the spoils of their prospective robbery; Marie and Wolf posing for their portrait while the broken-hearted Julie stands looking after the vanishing Liliom, the thieves' song ringing in her ears; the two policemen grousing about pay and pensions while Liliom lies bleeding to death; Liliom furtively proffering his daughter the star he has stolen for her in heaven. ... The temptation to count the whole scintillating string is difficult to resist.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Rodgers and Hammerstein both became well known for creating
By the early 1940s, Hart had sunk into alcoholism and emotional turmoil, becoming unreliable and prompting Rodgers to approach Hammerstein to ask if he would consider working with him. Hammerstein was eager to do so, and their first collaboration was
Oklahoma! had been a struggle to finance and produce. Hammerstein and Rodgers met weekly in 1943 with
I began to see an attractive ensemble—sailors, whalers, girls who worked in the mills up the river, clambakes on near-by islands, an amusement park on the seaboard, things people could do in crowds, people who were strong and alive and lusty, people who had always been depicted on the stage as thin-lipped puritans—a libel I was anxious to refute ... as for the two leading characters, Julie with her courage and inner strength and outward simplicity seemed more indigenous to Maine than to Budapest. Liliom is, of course, an international character, indigenous to nowhere.
Rodgers and Hammerstein were also concerned about what they termed "the tunnel" of Molnár's second act—a series of gloomy scenes leading up to Liliom's suicide—followed by a dark ending. They also felt it would be difficult to set Liliom's motivation for the robbery to music. Molnár's opposition to having his works adapted was also an issue; he had famously turned down
The pair continued to work on the preliminary ideas for a Liliom adaptation while pursuing other projects in late 1943 and early 1944—writing the film musical
In seeking to establish through song Liliom's motivation for the robbery, Rodgers remembered that he and Hart had a similar problem in Pal Joey. Rodgers and Hart had overcome the problem with a song that Joey sings to himself, "I'm Talking to My Pal". This inspired "
Hammerstein and Rodgers returned to the Liliom project in mid-1944. Hammerstein was uneasy as he worked, fearing that no matter what they did, Molnár would disapprove of the results. Green Grow the Lilacs had been a little-known work; Liliom was a theatrical standard. Molnár's text also contained considerable commentary on the Hungarian politics of 1909 and the rigidity of that society. A dismissed carnival barker who hits his wife, attempts a robbery and commits suicide seemed an unlikely central character for a musical comedy. Hammerstein decided to use the words and story to make the audience sympathize with the lovers. He also built up the secondary couple, who are incidental to the plot in Liliom; they became Enoch Snow and Carrie Pipperidge. "This Was a Real Nice Clambake" was repurposed from a song, "A Real Nice Hayride", written for Oklahoma! but not used.
Molnár's ending was unsuitable, and after a couple of false starts, Hammerstein conceived the graduation scene that ends the musical. According to
Liliom was a tragedy about a man who cannot learn to live with other people. The way Molnár wrote it, the man ends up hitting his daughter and then having to go back to purgatory, leaving his daughter helpless and hopeless. We couldn't accept that. The way we ended Carousel it may still be a tragedy but it's a hopeful one because in the final scene it is clear that the child has at last learned how to express herself and communicate with others.
When the pair decided to make "This Was a Real Nice Clambake" into an ensemble number, Hammerstein realized he had no idea what a clambake was like, and researched the matter. Based on his initial findings, he wrote the line, "First came codfish chowder". However, further research convinced him the proper term was "codhead chowder", a term unfamiliar to many playgoers. He decided to keep it as "codfish". When the song proceeded to discuss the lobsters consumed at the feast, Hammerstein wrote the line "We slit 'em down the back/And peppered 'em good". He was grieved to hear from a friend that lobsters are always slit down the front. The lyricist sent a researcher to a seafood restaurant and heard back that lobsters are always slit down the back. Hammerstein concluded that there is disagreement about which side of a lobster is the back. One error not caught involved the song "June Is Bustin' Out All Over", in which sheep are depicted as seeking to mate in late spring—they actually do so in the winter. Whenever this was brought to Hammerstein's attention, he told his informant that 1873 was a special year, in which sheep mated in the spring.
Rodgers early decided to dispense with an overture, feeling that the music was hard to hear over the banging of seats as latecomers settled themselves. In his autobiography, Rodgers complained that only the brass section can be heard during an overture because there are never enough strings in a musical's small orchestra. He determined to force the audience to concentrate from the beginning by opening with a
Other characters catch our notice—Mr. Bascombe, the pompous mill owner, Mrs. Mullin, the widow who runs the carousel and, apparently, Billy; a dancing bear; an acrobat. But what draws us in is the intensity with which Julie regards Billy—the way she stands frozen, staring at him, while everyone else at the fair is swaying to the rhythm of Billy's spiel. And as Julie and Billy ride together on the swirling carousel, and the stage picture surges with the excitement of the crowd, and the orchestra storms to a climax, and the curtain falls, we realize that R & H have not only skipped the overture and the opening number but the exposition as well. They have plunged into the story, right into the middle of it, in the most intense first scene any musical ever had.
The 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
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,
Rehearsals 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 the ballet was choreographed by de Mille. 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
The play opened for tryouts in
A major concern with the second act was the effectiveness of the characters He and She (later called by Rodgers "Mr. and Mrs. God"), before whom Billy appeared after his death. Mr. and Mrs. God were depicted as a New England minister and his wife, seen in their parlor. The couple was still part of the show at the Boston opening. Rodgers said to Hammerstein, "We've got to get God out of that parlor". When Hammerstein inquired where he should put the deity, Rodgers replied, "I don't care where you put Him. Put Him on a ladder for all I care, only get Him out of that parlor!" Hammerstein duly put Mr. God (renamed the Starkeeper) atop a ladder, and Mrs. God was removed from the show. Rodgers biographer
Hammerstein wrote that Molnár's advice, to combine two scenes into one, was key to pulling together the second act and represented "a more radical departure from the original than any change we had made". A reprise of "If I Loved You" was added in the second act, which Rodgers felt needed more music. Three weeks of tryouts in Boston followed the brief New Haven run, and the audience there gave the musical a warm reception. An even shorter version of the ballet was presented the final two weeks in Boston, but on the final night there, de Mille expanded it back to forty minutes, and it brought the house down, causing both Rodgers and Hammerstein to embrace her.