Carousel is a 1945 stage musical by Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (book and lyrics) that was adapted from Ferenc Molnar's play Liliom. The original production, which was directed by Rouben Mamoulian, opened at Broadway's Majestic Theatre on April 19, 1945 and closed on May 24, 1947 after playing 890 performances. The original cast included John Raitt, Jan Clayton, Jean Darling, Eric Mattson, Christine Johnson, Murvyn Vye, Bambi Linn, and Russell Collins.
Two young millworkers in freshly industrialized 1870s New England visit the town's carousel after work. One of them — demure Julie Jordan — shares a lingering glance and suggestive touch with the carousel's barker, Billy Bigelow. (instrumental piece: "Carousel Waltz")
Julie's friend Carrie Pipperidge presses her for information, but Julie is reticent about the encounter. (song: "You're a Queer One, Julie Jordan") Eventually satisfied, Carrie confides that she has a beau of her own: local fisherman Enoch Snow (song: "Mister Snow").
A policeman appears and warns the women that Billy has taken money from other women. Carrie goes off, but Julie stays. She and Billy, now alone, can talk freely, but neither can quite confess the growing attraction they feel for each other. ("Bench Scene" and song: "If I Loved You")
Despite the incommunicative start, Julie and Billy are married shortly thereafter. When we next see them, Julie is confiding to Carrie that Billy, now unemployed, is unstable and occasionally violent. Carrie has news, too — she and Mr. Snow are officially engaged (song: "Mister Snow reprise") and looking forward to their idealized notion of married life (song: "When The Children Are Asleep"). As they and the town's other young folk prepare to attend a clambake, spitfire Carrie pokes fun at the local boys, cheered on by the local girls (song: "Give It To 'Em Good, Carrie"). Julie's cousin Nettie Fowler leads them all in a celebration of spring accompanied by an elaborate dance (song: "June Is Bustin' Out All Over") before they leave for the clambake.
Meanwhile, Billy has fallen in with the unsavory sailor Jigger Craigin (song: "Blow High, Blow Low"), who tries to recruit him to help with a robbery. Billy is initially uninterested — but then Julie tells him of her pregnancy. Overwhelmed by the news, and determined to provide for his future child, he decides to be Jigger's accomplice after all (song: "Soliloquy").
During the clambake on a nearby island, (song: "A Real Nice Clambake"), Carrie's fiancé walks in on some innocent flirting between Carrie and Jigger, and declares, as Jigger jeers, that he is finished with her (song: "Geraniums In The Winder/ Stonecutters Cut It On Stone"). Julie, meanwhile, places her self-doubt aside and resolves to accept and love Billy as he is (song: "What's The Use Of Wondrin'?"). She sees Billy trying to sneak away with Jigger, and while trying to stop him, feels the knife hidden in his shirt. She begs him to give it to her, but he refuses and leaves to commit the robbery. Julie knows nothing about the crime, but realizes that Billy is about to do something that may get him in trouble.
Jigger and Billy play at cards, with the stakes being shares of the forecasted robbery spoils. Soon Billy has lost his much of his stake in the robbery; when the robbery victim appears, he is able to pull a gun on Billy and Jigger in self-defense. The robbery is aborted; and Jigger escapes while Billy escapes. Billy stabs himself with his knife and dies; Julie arrives too late to save him.
Nettie and the townsfolk comfort Julie (song: "You'll Never Walk Alone"), and we follow Billy to heaven. There, a pair of blunt-spoken angels explain that he must attempt to solve the problems he left behind (song: "The Highest Judge Of All"). They send him back down to earth, fifteen years after his suicide. His and Julie's daughter, Louise, is now an angry and rebellious teen (instrumental: "Louise's Ballet"). He tries to give her a small gift — a star from Heaven. But she refuses it, and in frustration, he slaps her. As he makes himself invisible, Louise tells Julie what has happened, and reveals that the slap miraculously felt like a kiss, not like a blow. Without allowing her to actually see him, Billy finally confesses his love to Julie (song: "If I Loved You reprise"). Having thus made amends, he is there for Louise's high-school graduation (song: "You'll Never Walk Alone reprise"), where, still invisible, he urges her to have confidence in herself. Although she does not hear him, she responds and, along with Julie, joins in the song. Through this good deed, Billy is redeemed (a complete departure from Molnar's Liliom, in which Liliom is supposedly sent to hell after slapping his daughter, despite the fact that in the Molnar play, the slap also felt like a kiss).
Both Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II said that Carousel was the favorite of their works together. They broke new ground in musical theater storytelling with their extended music/dialogue scenes, such as the "bench scene", which feaures "If I Loved You", and, hauntingly, the "Soliloquy" (where Billy imagines his future child). The bench scene, especially, used singing as if it were spoken dialogue set to music (much as in opera recitative, and in this scene, the "recitative" singing leads up to the actual song). The final anthem "You'll Never Walk Alone" has taken on a life of its own; a graduation standard, it is also customarily sung by fans at English football matches, especially those of Liverpool F.C.
A 1956 movie version starred Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae. This movie also had an appearance by a young Cheryl Holdridge, who would later gain fame on the Mickey Mouse Club. The movie also had an appearance by Jacques d'Amboise, a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, as the charismatic carousel barker in the ballet.
Themes and Issues
Carousel is the first opportunity for Oscar Hammerstein II, a forward thinking liberal, to explore attitudes of society and prejudice in a musical play. The main theme of Carousel is that of class; Julie and Billy are both working class, whereas Enoch and (ultimately) Carrie are middle class, and the differences between these two families are touched on during the second act. The ultimate conclusion is that anybody can go far, no matter what their class, and that everybody, even a rough fairground worker who beats his wife, can be redeemed.
Prologue. An Amusement Park on the New England Coast
Scene One. A Tree-lined Path Along the Shore
Scene Two. Nettie Fowler's Spa on the Ocean Front
Scene One. On an Island Across the Bay
Scene Two. Mainland Waterfront
Scene Three. Up There in Heaven
Scene Four. Down Here on a Beach
Scene Five. Outside Julie's Cottage
Scene Six. Outside the Schoolhouse
The film version, released in 1956 by 20th Century Fox, starred Gordon MacRae as Billy and Shirley Jones as Julie. It was produced in Cinemascope 55, and also featured Cameron Mitchell (in his only singing role) as Jigger Craigin, Barbara Ruick as Carrie, opera stars Claramae Turner and Robert Rounseville as Nettie and Mr. Snow, respectively, Gene Lockhart as the Starkeeper, and Susan Luckey as Louise. The film followed the stage version faithfully, except for three major changes -
This last change was made to safeguard against the movie audience's being surprised at the death of Billy, and to prevent their leaving after Billy's death lest they think the story ended at that point.
The film was largely critically acclaimed, but was a box office flop. Its soundtrack album, however, sold well, and the film's exposure on television, VHS, and DVD, has won a larger audience for it. It was, unfortunately, the only Rodgers and Hammerstein film not nominated for any Academy Awards. However, some of the technical staff of The King and I also worked on Carousel. They were nominated for the film version of The King and I, which had been released only three months after Carousel, and ended up winning for that film, so they did not go home empty-handed on Oscar night.