Musical Moments: CarouselI'm long overdue for a Musical Moments post so in honor of the opening of the much heralded and critically acclaimed revival of South Pacific last week, I've decided to focus on another of Rodgers & Hammerstein's classics: Carousel. This is probably my favorite score of all the R & H shows (The Carousel Waltz is perhaps one of the best orchestral pieces ever written for the musical stage and "If I loved You" is considered by many a near perfect song.) But as with most of Rodgers and Hammerstein, people either love it or they hate it. (Frankly, I think this is because people have seen too many bad productions of these shows, for when they're done well, they are wonderful.) Carousel gets a pretty bad rap for the wife-beating that goes on in the story and particularly for the line when Louise asks her mother, Julie, if it's possible for a man to hit you and not feel it at all, Julie replies "yes". But this in no way promotes spousal abuse. It is simply an accurate portrayal the of psyche of a battered woman, indeed, Louise is in danger of repeating the cycle of dysfunction as we learn in the ballet when she is seduced by a carnival barker similar to her father.
During a visit to one of the grad schools I was accepted at, there was discussion about the importance of doing classic musicals as part of a well-rounded theatre education. While one teacher argued that the R&H shows have been done to death and should be left alone for a while to gain some perspective, another argued that most students age 18 to 22 hadn't been exposed to these classics yet and that there is room for new, modern-day interpretations of the shows. He used the '94 Broadway revival of Carousel as an example of how fresh, new and even avant garde these shows can be conceptualized. He also correctly noted that Rodgers & Hammerstein are the basis for modern musical theatre; that without Oscar Hammerstein there would be no Stephen Sondheim. (Sondheim was protege to Oscar Hammerstein.) I've included a clip from that production of the "You'll Never Walk Alone" scene performed on the Tony awards. You will also note the color-blind casting done in the production: both Cousin Nettie and Carrie Pipperidge, for example, were played by black actresses. Enjoy the clip.