Carousel (musical)

Carousel
Musical1945-Carousel-OriginalPoster.jpg
Original Broadway poster (1945)
MusicRichard Rodgers
LyricsOscar Hammerstein II
BookOscar Hammerstein II
BasisLiliom, a play by Ferenc Molnár
Productions
Awards

Carousel is the second musical by the team of Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (book and lyrics). The 1945 work 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 participates in a robbery to provide for Julie and their unborn child; after it goes tragically wrong, he is given 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 of 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, recorded several times and was filmed in 1956. A production by Nicholas Hytner enjoyed success in 1992 in London, in 1994 in New York and on tour. Another Broadway revival opened in 2018. In 1999, Time magazine named Carousel the best musical of the 20th century.

Background

Liliom

Ferenc Molnár's Hungarian-language drama, Liliom, premiered in Budapest in 1909. The audience was puzzled by the work, and it lasted only thirty-odd performances before being withdrawn, the first shadow on Molnár's successful career as a playwright. Liliom was not presented again until after World War I. When it reappeared on the Budapest stage, it was a tremendous hit.[1]

"A star—please, my dear—I must do something good." Liliom (Joseph Schildkraut) offers Louise (Evelyn Chard) the star he stole; 1921 Theatre Guild production

Except for the ending, the plots of Liliom and Carousel are very similar.[2] Andreas Zavocky (nicknamed Liliom, the Hungarian word for "lily", a slang term for "tough guy"),[3] a carnival barker, falls in love with Julie Zeller, a servant girl, and they begin living together. With both discharged from their jobs, Liliom is discontented and contemplates leaving Julie, but decides not to do so on learning that she is pregnant. A subplot involves Julie's friend Marie, who has fallen in love with Wolf Biefeld, a hotel porter—after the two marry, he becomes the owner of the hotel. Desperate to make money so that he, Julie and their child can escape to America and a better life, Liliom conspires with lowlife Ficsur to commit a robbery, but it goes badly, and Liliom stabs himself. He dies, and his spirit is taken to heaven's police court. As Ficsur suggested while the two waited to commit the crime, would-be robbers like them do not come before God Himself. Liliom is told by the magistrate that he may go back to Earth for one day to attempt to redeem the wrongs he has done to his family, but must first spend sixteen years in a fiery purgatory.[4]

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.[4]

An English translation of Liliom was credited to Benjamin "Barney" Glazer, though there is a story that the actual translator, uncredited, was Rodgers' first major partner Lorenz Hart.[5] The Theatre Guild presented it in New York City in 1921, with Joseph Schildkraut as Liliom,[5] and the play was a success, running 300 performances.[6] A 1940 revival, with Burgess Meredith and Ingrid Bergman was seen by both Hammerstein and Rodgers.[5] Glazer, in introducing the English translation of Liliom, wrote of the play's appeal:

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.[7]

Inception

In the 1920s and 1930s, Rodgers and Hammerstein both became well known for creating Broadway hits with other partners. Rodgers, with Lorenz Hart, had produced a string of over two dozen musicals, including such popular successes as Babes in Arms (1937), The Boys from Syracuse (1938) and Pal Joey (1940).[8] Some of Rodgers' work with Hart broke new ground in musical theatre: On Your Toes was the first use of ballet to sustain the plot (in the "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" scene), while Pal Joey flouted Broadway tradition by presenting a knave as its hero.[9] Hammerstein had written or co-written the words for such hits as Rose-Marie (1924), The Desert Song (1926), The New Moon (1927) and Show Boat (1927). Though less productive in the 1930s, he wrote material for musicals and films, sharing an Oscar for his song with Jerome Kern, "The Last Time I Saw Paris", which was included in the 1941 film Lady Be Good.[10]

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.[11] Hammerstein was eager to do so, and their first collaboration was Oklahoma! (1943).[12] Thomas Hischak states, in his The Rodgers and Hammerstein Encyclopedia, that Oklahoma! is "the single most influential work in the American musical theatre. In fact, the history of the Broadway musical can accurately be divided into what came before Oklahoma! and what came after it."[13] An innovation for its time in integrating song, character, plot and dance, Oklahoma! would serve, according to Hischak, as "the model for Broadway shows for decades",[13] and proved a huge popular and financial success. Once it was well-launched, what to do as an encore was a daunting challenge for the pair. Film producer Samuel Goldwyn saw Oklahoma! and advised Rodgers to shoot himself, which according to Rodgers "was Sam's blunt but funny way of telling me that I'd never create another show as good as Oklahoma!"[14] As they considered new projects, Hammerstein wrote, "We're such fools. No matter what we do, everyone is bound to say, 'This is not another Oklahoma!' "[15]

Oklahoma! had been a struggle to finance and produce. Hammerstein and Rodgers met weekly in 1943 with Theresa Helburn and Lawrence Langner of the Theatre Guild, producers of the blockbuster musical, who together formed what they termed "the Gloat Club". At one such luncheon, Helburn and Langner proposed to Rodgers and Hammerstein that they turn Molnár's Liliom into a musical. Both men refused—they had no feeling for the Budapest setting and thought that the unhappy ending was unsuitable for musical theatre.[5] In addition, given the unstable wartime political situation, they might need to change the setting from Hungary while in rehearsal.[16] At the next luncheon, Helburn and Langner again proposed Liliom, suggesting that they move the setting to Louisiana and make Liliom a Creole. Rodgers and Hammerstein played with the idea over the next few weeks, but decided that Creole dialect, filled with "zis" and "zose", would sound corny and would make it difficult to write effective lyrics.[16]

A breakthrough came when Rodgers, who owned a house in Connecticut, proposed a New England setting.[17] Hammerstein wrote of this suggestion in 1945,

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.[18]

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.[16] Molnár's opposition to having his works adapted was also an issue; he had famously turned down Giacomo Puccini when the great composer wished to transform Liliom into an opera, stating that he wanted the piece to be remembered as his, not Puccini's.[5] In 1937, Molnár, who had recently emigrated to the United States, had declined another offer from Kurt Weill to adapt the play into a musical.[3]

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 State Fair[19] and producing I Remember Mama on Broadway.[20] Meanwhile, the Theatre Guild took Molnár to see Oklahoma! Molnár stated that if Rodgers and Hammerstein could adapt Liliom as beautifully as they had modified Green Grow the Lilacs into Oklahoma!, he would be pleased to have them do it.[21] The Guild obtained the rights from Molnár in October 1943. The playwright received one percent of the gross and $2,500 for "personal services".[22] The duo insisted, as part of the contract, that Molnár permit them to make changes in the plot. At first, the playwright refused, but eventually yielded. Hammerstein later stated that if this point had not been won, "we could never have made Carousel."[23]

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 "Soliloquy". Both partners later told a story that "Soliloquy" was only intended to be a song about Liliom's dreams of a son, but that Rodgers, who had two daughters, insisted that Liliom consider that Julie might have a girl. However, the notes taken at their meeting of December 7, 1943 state: "Mr. Rodgers suggested a fine musical number for the end of the scene where Liliom discovers he is to be a father, in which he sings first with pride of the growth of a boy, and then suddenly realizes it might be a girl and changes completely."[24]

The opening carnival scene in Liliom inspired the pantomime that begins Carousel; 1921

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.[15] 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.[3] 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.[25] "This Was a Real Nice Clambake" was repurposed from a song, "A Real Nice Hayride", written for Oklahoma! but not used.[26]

Molnár's ending was unsuitable, and after a couple of false starts, Hammerstein conceived the graduation scene that ends the musical. According to Frederick Nolan in his book on the team's works: "From that scene the song "You'll Never Walk Alone" sprang almost naturally."[27] In spite of Hammerstein's simple lyrics for "You'll Never Walk Alone", Rodgers had great difficulty in setting it to music.[28] Rodgers explained his rationale for the changed ending,

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.[29]

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.[30]

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.[31] 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 pantomime scene accompanied by what became known as "The Carousel Waltz".[32] The pantomime paralleled one in the Molnár play, which was also used to introduce the characters and situation to the audience.[33] Author Ethan Mordden described the effectiveness of this opening:

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.[34]

Casting and out-of-town tryouts

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 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 aria 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).[35] Theresa Helburn 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.[27]

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.[27] 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.[36] 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.[37] A new member of the creative team was Trude Rittmann, who arranged the dance music. Rittmann 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.[33]

Photo of Hammerstein in middle age, seated, wearing a suit
Oscar Hammerstein II

Rehearsals began in January 1945;[3] either Rodgers or Hammerstein was always present.[38] 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.[39] 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.[35][40] 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!"[41] Hammerstein wrote that Molnár became a regular attendee at rehearsals after that.[18]

Like most of the pair's works, Carousel contains a lengthy ballet, "Billy Makes a Journey",[42] 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.[43] 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.[44]

The play opened for tryouts in New Haven, Connecticut on March 22, 1945. The first act was well-received; the second act was not.[45] Casto recalled that the second act finished about 1:30 a.m.[27] The staff immediately sat down for a two-hour conference. Five scenes, half the ballet, and two songs were cut from the show as the result. John Fearnley commented, "Now I see why these people have hits. I never witnessed anything so brisk and brave in my life."[45] De Mille said of this conference, "not three minutes had been wasted pleading for something cherished. Nor was there any idle joking. ... We cut and cut and cut and then we went to bed."[46] By the time the company left New Haven, de Mille's ballet was down to forty minutes.[44]

A major concern with the second act was the effectiveness of the characters He and She (later called by Rodgers "Mr. and Mrs. God"),[47] 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.[39][48] The couple was still part of the show at the Boston opening.[39] 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,[49] and Mrs. God was removed from the show.[39] Rodgers biographer Meryle Secrest terms this change a mistake, leading to a more fantastic afterlife, which was later criticized by The New Republic as "a Rotarian atmosphere congenial to audiences who seek not reality but escape from reality, not truth but escape from truth".[39]

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".[18] A reprise of "If I Loved You" was added in the second act, which Rodgers felt needed more music.[50] Three weeks of tryouts in Boston followed the brief New Haven run, and the audience there gave the musical a warm reception.[45] 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.[44]

Other Languages
Bahasa Indonesia: Carousel (musikal)
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Simple English: Carousel (musical)
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Carousel (mjuzikl)