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Carousel: A Rough Guide For The M.D. Part I

May 5, 2012

Carousel Rough Guide

Carousel is one of the big dogs in American Musical Theatre. It’s like West Side Story. I’m not kidding. You need some powerhouse singers to sing Soliloquy, the Bench Scene, and You’ll Never Walk Alone. You’re going to need some serious acting chops to be sympathetic as Billy Bigelow, or to pull off that charmingly dangerous Jigger role, or to do that monologue Julie speaks to the dead Billy. You’re going to need some dancers who can dance, because they’re going to do all the story telling at two of the most important moments in the show, and they’re going to do It for 8 or 10 minutes at a stretch. And if you have those, (and that’s a big if) the Director, the Choreographer and the Music Director are going to have to be on their A game to pull it off well. All three of them do heavy lifting in the storytelling of this piece. Carousel is up against an audience it wasn’t written for, and it tells a story people don’t want to hear (using music they do). Because of all these obstacles, the Choreographer, the Director, and the M.D. are going to have to be on the same page about the story, facing the same direction, in the same room, and listening hard to each other, the music, and the story to do it justice. That’s why I’ve split this post into two sections.

In this first half, I’ll be looking at the big ideas of the piece.  Why does the M.D. need to pay attention the big ideas of this piece? If you don’t want to think hard about the drama and how the music works with it, you need to do an easier piece. This show is not for you.

The ideas I’ll be discussing have come out of the production I music directed at Villanova University directed by Dr. Valerie Joyce and choreographed by Shannon Murphy. If there are good ideas here in this section, I probably got them from these two wonderful collaborators. If some of the ideas are lousy, they’re probably mine.

In the second half, I’ll be examining the specific elements of each of the numbers with technical advice for the M.D. As with all the other rough guides, I hope that advice is helpful to you, and that if I’m wrong, you’ll ignore my advice. But please don’t think of Carousel as a set of technical hurdles to be jumped. It is a set of dramatic questions to be posed and worked out through the mechanism of Hammerstein’s words and Rodgers music.

What To Do Before You Start:

1)      Read Liliom by Ferenc Molnar. It’s a gut-wrenching play. When you read it, you’ll probably wonder how Rodgers and Hammerstein ever thought it could be musicalized, especially with the vocabulary the musical had in the 1940s.

  1. BONUS POINTS: watch Fritz Lang’s Liliom with Charles Boyer. Good stuff. Not safe for kids, though, FYI. (some pre-code groping in the bench scene)

2)      Read the script, and don’t skip the stage directions or the descriptions of the dances.

3)      Listen to the soundtracks, in this order;

  1. ORIGINAL 1945 BROADWAY CAST with John Raitt.
  2. LINCOLN CENTER 1965 REVIVAL CAST with Raitt and Jerry Orbach as Jigger. Raitt is superman. He actually transposes numbers UP. Insane.
  3. 1994 BROADWAY REVIVAL CAST with an undercooked Billy, but a tremendous Carrie.

There are other soundtracks, which are fun, but not important for you to listen to. Buy the 1993 LONDON REVIVAL next, then the 1987 STUDIO VERSION with Sam Ramey and Barbara Cook, then the 1956 MOVIE SOUNDTRACK, if you really are a completist.

4)      Read the chapter on Carousel from Joseph Swain’s amazing book The Broadway Musical.

5)      Avoid watching the movie.

THE REPUTATION OF THE PIECE.

My librettist Matt Boresi puts the plot of Carousel this way:

A real jerk hits his wife and dies. Then he comes back from the dead to hit his daughter. “Who was that?”, the daughter says. “Oh, that was your father.” says mom. “He hits people to show them he loves them.”

Your audience probably doesn’t even know the story of the piece. In our production, we often heard people come out of the theatre saying, “I knew all that music, but I guess I never knew the story at all.” When people look at the material, there is sometimes a sense of disgust or anger. (although interestingly, much more in young people than in the older audience) Is the hero of this piece really a man who hits women? Does the heroine really sing a ‘stand by your man’ type song about this guy? Does he hit his daughter too? How am I supposed to sit still and watch this?

This musical isn’t a big piece of fluffy cotton candy. It’s dealing with some really tough issues, all of which are still with us today. There is a way to direct this piece that focuses on the hard realities, and another way that focuses on the warmly human messages Hammerstein is trying to relay. But in order to do the piece justice, you must be willing to face some ugly truths about human nature and be honest with your audience about it. Some of the issues Carousel brings up include:

1)      What makes a man hit a woman or a child? Is such a man completely beyond salvation?

2)      A child who is brought up by a single parent in a closed-minded community walks a difficult path. Does that path determine his/her destiny? If not, what does?

3)      Society has different expectations of men and women. Are they equitable? Are they reasonable?

4)      What happens to a person with very few marketable skills when they lose the only job they’re qualified to do?

5)      Is death the end, or do we live on? Is that afterlife in the great beyond, or do we live on in the world we’ve helped create? Or is it both?

To such timeless and important questions, Rodgers and Hammerstein have given us few answers. That’s how good theatre functions; you work out the answers in your mind on the way home. The playwright’s job is to ask them in such an interesting and compelling way that you are forced to reconsider questions you had previously considered answered.

In my exploration of the ideas of the piece in this first half of the guide, I’ll be focusing on those themes which find musical expression. You’ll have to tease out the rest of the issues during your rehearsal process. But you will not do the piece or your audience any favors by watering down the hard truths of the story. Face them head on, and if you don’t have the stomach for it, do a show that asks easier questions.

BLOSSOMS/FLOWERS

This is a major theme of the show, and a thread that runs nearly all the way through. Part of this stems from Hammerstein’s subconscious, which always goes to nature imagery for lyric inspiration. But the thread of flowers is also a deliberate theme.

Carrie is the first to mention flowers, and in her vision of her wedding:

“The flowers’ll be buzzin’ with the hum of bees”

The blossoms in the bench scene are in Molnar’s Liliom only once at the very end of the scene but Hammerstein makes the motif far more explicit with a simple change. Hammerstein knows how and when to ask for musical punctuation to get the audience to applaud.  (see Sondheim’s remarks about the end of Rose’s Turn in Finishing the Hat) Here he and Rodgers don’t ask for applause at the end of each If I Loved You, instead moving into underscore without a button to signify the end of the song. At each of those moments, Hammerstein has placed a reference to the blossoms, and the fact that the wind brings them down. At the end of the scene, Julie says “The blossoms are jest comin’ down by theirselves. Just their time to, I reckon”. Then they kiss to close the scene. Molnar’s original also ends with blossoms, but Julie is far more aggressive, asking him not to go back to the Carousel and asserting herself more forcefully on him. In Hammerstein’s version, Billy and Julie are a part of nature. Just as the flowers don’t need the wind to fall down, their love matures in its own time.

The girls in the Mr. Snow Reprise continue the wedding flowers motif:

“With your orange blossoms quiverin’ in your hand…”

Because Hammerstein is so careful to mirror the primary couple in the secondary relationship for contrast, it shouldn’t surprise us to see the flower metaphor in the Carrie and Snow’s relationship. When we meet Mr. Snow, he surprises Carrie with flowers, but in the form of packets of Geranium and Hydrangea seeds. These are flowers we’ll have to work at and wait for. To ruin the metaphor by making it explicit: Billy and Julie’s relationship is wild and untended, a function of nature. Carrie and Snow’s is carefully cultivated and tended, and blooms at the will of Mr. Snow.

Hammerstein makes that comparison pointedly in the scene, when Snow says he likes to plant and tend flowers. Julie replies: “I couldn’t rightly say if Billy likes to take keer of flowers. He likes to smell ‘em, though.” I think it’s important that this line not be read too knowingly. It’s not Hammerstein’s way for these characters to be completely aware of the irony of these statements. The audience is smart enough to get the metaphor without the actor overdoing it.

Naturally we couldn’t get through a song about a month or a season without Hammerstein mentioning flowers, but he manages to hold off in June is Bustin’ Out All Over until the First Act Finale reprise, when “the flowers are bustin’ from their seed!”

The metaphor finds its final iteration in the number Geraniums in the Winder, where Snow laments the loss of his domestic aspirations. The scene is played for laughs, but in his moment of grief, the loss of what he had cultivated is what he mourns.  When Billy sings to Julie near the end of the show about his loss, he mourns his own inability to articulate his love, and his departure in a mist. Where Snow and Carrie’s love is cultivated, Billy and Julie’s  wasn’t planned and isn’t clearly defined.

THE COMMUNITY

In Carousel, the Community rejoices in their group activities, the clambake, the treasure hunt, their occupations, the fresh energy of the Spring. But Hammerstein’s vision of this community is nuanced, containing positive, neutral, and negative members, usually in matched pairs. This is a common thread in Hammerstein’s 1940s musicals. Oklahoma revolves around a community trying to reconcile its various interest groups through the shared joys of entertainment, song, and group activity. At the end of Oklahoma the community rallies around Curly to the point where they hold a quick trial to exonerate him, even though the circumstances of Judd’s death are by no means clear-cut. It’s also telling that when Hammerstein writes their next show Allegro, and is able to say exactly what he thinks without being held back by any source material, he writes a parable about a man leaving the warmth of a supportive community for the coolness of the city, and finding it empty, returning to his roots. The Hammerstein vision of community contains many disparate elements; some malignant, some benign, and some full of grace. In this community, the characters have the potential to overcome their troubles and find peace. But for the person who chooses to live alone or in the anonymity of the city, there is only a jaded opportunism possible in Hammerstein’s world.

In Carousel, the depiction of the complete community is important and integral. In the original Molnar play, there is a far bleaker depiction of a stiflingly stratified world, social roles are strongly circumscribed, the characters are more alienated from one another and seem to have far fewer options. Hammerstein’s many small changes to the characters create a world in which Billy and Julie have more moral agency, which makes their tragedy one of choice, not of fate. But Hammerstein is careful to create new redemptive possibilities even as he makes them more responsible for their choices. This emphasis makes the piece more American and in particular more like the idealistic America of the 1940s.

In Jigger and Mullin, we find people who are outsiders. They are world-wise, in fact at some points they seem to be the only two in the play who are able to see circumstances accurately. But they are opportunists; Mullin operates to keep the man to whom she is attracted in her employ and to build her business, even if it means destroying a marriage. Jigger is interested in gratifying his desires and bringing others into his criminal schemes. To that end, he lays out masterfully convoluted moral arguments. He is in fact, the most verbally gifted character in the play. These outsiders do not consider themselves responsible for the welfare of others, they are only out to serve their own best interests.

In Bascombe and Mr. Snow, we see people who are responsibly engaged in enterprise. In Bascombe’s case, although he has high standards for his ‘girls’, he does offer Julie one further chance to make the responsible choice. After Julie insists on staying with Billy, he observes sadly that “there are some of them you just can’t help.”. When Billy and Jigger try to steal his money later in the show, Bascombe speaks about actions and consequences, but still manages to ruefully say, “The fools- the silly fools. They didn’t even notice I was comin’ from the ship, not to it.” Bascombe thus represents a type of person who makes attempts to show mercy even while making a profit and laying down rules. Snow is also convinced of the consequences of actions, although in his mind the equation is much more oriented to his hard work resulting in the construction of a solid, profitable, and growing business. “A man had enough to worry about, getting’ a good sleep o’ nights so’s to get in a good day’s work the next day without goin’ out an’ lookin’ for any special trouble… A man’s got to make plans fer his life- and then he’s got to stick to ‘em”  In the following number, Snow lays out a long plan for the furtherance of both his business and family plans, all of which revolve around expansion. We hear from Carrie that Snow believes unemployment to be a fault of the unemployed; he shows little patience for the unindustrious. This aspect of Snow’s character is Hammerstein’s invention; Snow’s counterpart Wolf in Liliom is also a successful businessman, but at the end of the play, we find that he has gotten a better job for Julie, and we see him as a magnanimous character. Hammerstein is careful to show the downside of Snow’s single-minded focus. In the second act, Snow has become a judgmental prude, and something of a hypocrite. His narrow mindedness and his pride in his hard work and his hard won gains have strained his marriage and given him a cause to look down on everyone who hasn’t had his success.

It’s important to note that in Hammerstein’s version of Carousel, there are jobs to be had! Carrie puts it like this: “Mr. Snow says a man can’t find work these days is jest bone lazy.” Billy himself mentions 10 occupations in Soliloquy that he can imagine his future son holding. In Molnar’s world, Liliom doesn’t have many honest options. The only trades besides carnival Barking that Liliom has as options are in the distant factories of America, and in a job he is offered as a caretaker. Molnar makes the point clearly that Liliom is incapable of caring for anyone or anything, and that he knows he would be awful at this job. In Hammerstein’s world, one senses that Billy really could get a job if he were willing to let go of his pride.

Incidentally, in Molnar’s play, Julie actually has more options. Another man with a decent job is courting her, and the dying Liliom encourages Julie to marry him and have him raise their child as his own!  

Dr. Seldon and Aunt Nettie are deeply inside the community. Here we find Hammerstein’s ideal community members: Warm, knowing, understanding, forgiving, they aren’t takers; they’re giving and encouraging. These characters show up in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s shows often, and they are usually the characters who come closest to laying out what might be called a ‘moral’. Nettie is the polar opposite of Mother Hollunder, her counterpart in Liliom, who is constantly hassling Liliom for freeloading, and encourages Julie to dump him for the more responsible gentleman caller. Here’s a sample from the Molnar:

MOTHER HOLLUNDER: Always wanting something, but never willing to work for it. He won’t work, and he won’t steal, but he’ll use up a poor widow’s last bit of firewood. He’ll do that cheerfully enough! A big, strong lout like that lying around all day resting his lazy bones! He ought to be ashamed to look decent people in the face.

She has a line very like this nearly every time she’s on stage, and the audience sides with Billy in disliking her. But in Hammerstein’s world, The presence of warm, providing, loving people in Billy’s life makes him even more responsible for his choices.

I’m not sure how Hammerstein could have made it clearer that Dr. Seldon is a man to be listened to: The angel in the scene identifies him with the Starkeeper, they are normally played by the same actor, and he is a country doctor. Hammerstein liked country doctors so much, his next play revolved around one. In an earlier draft, this scene had apparently included a Mr. and Mrs. God. Presumably, this is what’s left of Mr. God. The words Hammerstein put in Seldon’s mouth are about personal responsibility, faith, and new beginnings. Nettie and Seldon are the benevolent grace of the community personified.

THE CITY LIFE VERSUS THE COUNTRY LIFE

Implicit in this idealistic picture of community is a rejection of ‘City’ values. We see no real rejection of the City in Rodgers previous work before Hammerstein, but beginning with Oklahoma, we can trace a greater and greater rejection of city values, culminating in the moralistic rejection of the city in Allegro, the show they would write after Carousel. In Oklahoma, Will Parker’s humorous exploits in Kansas City are played for laughs, to point up his complete inexperience in city ways, but we also see between the Burlesque theatre and the “Little Wonder” a commercial expression of sexuality that in the case of the “little wonder”, is potentially deadly.

The rejection of City life is more subdued in Carousel, but it is there: The officer who confronts Billy and Julie in the Bench scene remarks that he came up from Coney Island, implying that makes him more dangerous. In the second act, Carrie and Snow have returned from New York, and in a scene very much parallel to “Everything’s Up To Date In Kansas City”, she relates the extravaganza she saw there, which Snow found too shocking to allow his wife to see, but not so shocking that he didn’t go back to watch himself later.

In Allegro, the condemnation of the city life and the glorification of the country life are made explicit in the story and the songs.  In the number yatata, we see a montage of shallow city people with money who use the doctor for shots and pills as they lead fast-paced lives running about aimlessly, and near the end of the show, when the hero is reaching the pinnacle of his success in the big city, he hears the voice of his mother beckoning him back to the country:

You will find a world of honest friends who miss you

You will shake the hands of men whose hands are strong

And when all their wives and kids run up and kiss you,

You will know that you are back where you belong.

We can see Carousel as another step in Hammerstein’s rejection of the City in favor of an ideal Rural Community, where characters can know and be known by each other.

THE ROLE OF MUSIC IN CAROUSEL

Music plays an important role in the world of the show. Billy’s world is full of music when he works at the carousel, as we hear in the first 8 minutes of the prologue, and music is of central importance to him. Julie tells Carrie:

“After supper when he stands out here and listens to the music from the Carousel – somethin’ comes over him- and he’s gentle.”

Later, when Mullin tries to recruit Billy again, she mentions the new organ at the Carousel, and he comments that it has a nice tone, and that he listens to it every night. Before the botched robbery attempt, Billy reacts with dismay when Jigger tells him only the rich folks get music and angels in heaven. In Jigger’s equation, the poor get justice, the rich get music. Justice and music are opposite. Not only is Jigger’s speech one of the few remaining comments on societal inequity remaining from Molnar’s original play, it is crucial to set up Billy’s demand in The Highest Judge of All:

Want pink faced angels on a purple cloud,

Twangin’ on their harps while their fingers turn red

Want organ music, let it roll out loud

Rollin’ like a wave washin’ over my heard!

In this sense, music operates in the world of the piece as a force of grace, and the thought of an eternity in which only the wealthy get music appalls Billy, because music is his only solace.

MUSIC AS STORY TELLER IN CAROUSEL

It’s common in the literature to point out that Billy and Julie never sing together in the whole musical. This is a profound key to understanding the storytelling of Carousel, but it’s only the beginning. The way the characters sing to and with one another is crucial to understanding their interactions, and these interactions are shrewdly managed by the Authors.

If I loved You is a song about two people who are incapable of coming right out and saying that they love one another. Or is it? Hammerstein loved to write this kind of lyric, in which a character posits a question or observation about love, usually hypothetically, in order to speak about love obliquely to the beloved without committing him or herself. Other examples include:

Why Do I Love You?

Only Make Believe I Love You

People Will Say We’re in Love

Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?

It’s fun to look for this kind of a lyric in Hammerstein, and until I read the source play for Carousel, I had always assumed that the lyric was his invention.  But in the play, we see this exchange:

Liliom- But you wouldn’t marry a rough guy like me- that is, -eh- if you loved me-

Julie- Yes, I would- If I loved you, Mister Liliom.

Hammerstein latched onto this idea and built a pivotal number around it. The structure and many of the details of the scene remain, but Hammerstein has made many small changes in tone and intent. In the original scene, Julie is much more aggressive. As the scene comes to a close, Liliom is about ready to go and ask for his job back. Julie says, “Don’t go back to her-“. He says something about the blossoms, and she says it again. “Don’t go back to her.” The Julie of the play is sure of what she wants. The Julie of the musical is outwardly more demure. I suspect the change was made so that Julie doesn’t look overly sexually aggressive and lose the sympathy of a conservative audience. But Hammerstein does something more beautiful still with the scene, because Julie teaches Billy how to say he loves her without saying it. Billy’s only original music in the whole scene is his musing about nature and philosophy. He isn’t singing about her. He’s not capable of expressing his emotion in that way to her. But almost at the end of the scene he uses the language and music she’s already sung to him to advance tentatively, noncommittally into the love song himself. It isn’t that they don’t sing together, or that they can’t say that they love each other. It’s that Julie has taught him how to say he loves her.

Carrie and Snow have a completely opposite, but similarly telling musical trajectory. Whereas Julie and Billy can’t say they love each other in a full 12 minutes of singing, Carrie says she loves Snow in her very first song on stage. “For I love that Mister Snow”. He returns the favor in his first entrance, singing “I love Miss Pipperidge and I am to make Miss Pipperidge change her name to Missus Enoch Snow”.  These two have no trouble expressing their love for each other. When the Children Are Asleep is a still more impressively constructed musical metaphor. Snow begins with a new tune and accompaniment that both rock back and forth like the boat he’s describing. He lays out his plans for his marriage and his home life, and some of the details are clearly surprising to Carrie. But this scenelet, like the other two extended duet scenes, culminates in a more conventional tune, in which Snow paints a picture of their love thriving in this domestic situation. At that point, Carrie begins to sing HIS material from the beginning of the song, in her own key, skipping the material about his ambitions, and moving directly to the main tune in which they still love one another at home. She has appropriated what she approved of in his song, and is happy to sing that with him. The two of them are learning to be a couple together by sharing their music. At the end of the tune, they sing together, but in an ingenious way that most audiences are not even aware of. Their phrases overlap by a word; the same word in each case, but used in a different sense.

Carrie:

When the children are asleep, we’ll sit and DREAM

Snow: (overlapping)

DREAM all alone

Carrie:

The dreams that every other Dad and Mother DREAM

Snow (overlapping)

DREAMS that won’t be interrupted

When the children are asleep and lights are LOW

Carrie: (overlapping)

LO and behold

If I still love you the way

I love you today,

you’ll pardon my saying

I told you so.

When the children are asleep, I’ll dream with YOU

Snow: (overlapping)

YOU’ll dream with me.

They are truly singing one another’s material, and they take turns beginning and ending phrases. Carrie and Snow finish the song singing the same lyrics in parallel 6ths, which is the musical equivalent of perfect union of two characters. After experiencing a primary couple who are so inarticulate and hesitant about love, in which Julie is constantly giving the means of expression, the secondary couple comes as a sharp and welcome contrast.

When the inevitable bump in the road happens in the second act for Snow and Carrie, Snow sings his regrets about the dissolution of their relationship in Geraniums in the Winder. Interestingly, he sings very little about her, and much more about the plans he had made which are now unlikely to come to fruition. For her part, Carrie doesn’t sing at all. Where she would have sung, Jigger sings instead. This is funny, but also telling, because Jigger is the cause of Snow’s regret, and he hasn’t really considered Carrie at all; only how the scene he walked into doesn’t fit into his plans. Carrie and Enoch eventually get married, but they don’t sing together again for the rest of the show, and we see that Snow’s closed-mindedness has grated on their relationship for some time. They have stopped learning one another’s music.

Billy doesn’t sing again about Julie until very close to the end. He sings briefly (and somewhat inexplicably) about sea life during Blow High, Blow Low. Then he comes to the first expression of love that is truly his own, in Soliloquy. At first, of course, he sings only about himself. “I wonder what he’ll think of me…” is a classic example of Hammerstein’s ability to have a character say something absolutely true to the moment and incredibly revelatory to deeper truths the character doesn’t know about himself. He insists the kid be named after him and paints an idealized picture of a young man, himself. But during the course of the song, he discovers a true responsibility to another person, and the sense of poetry he felt about nature bubbles to the surface to another end. Where in the bench scene, he had sung a nihilistic:

“We don’t count at all”

He now sings:

“She’s gotta be sheltered

And fed and dressed

In the best that money can buy

I never knew how to get money,

But I’ll try by God, I’ll try.

I’ll go out and make it

or steal it

or take it

or die! “

His relationship with Julie and her subsequent pregnancy has taught him how to express something that is tragically misguided, but neither nihilist or self-serving, and his newfound outlook finds its expression through his music.

In The Highest Judge of All, we see that Billy’s pride and his determination not to be underestimated is still in full effect, but his musical expression has lost the lyricism of the end of Soliloquy, and is now purely the musical depiction of his swollen self-importance, an egotism that has been the obstacle to his true self-awareness through the whole play. The number was cut from the most recent revivals. Our Billy Bigelow related a story to me that he had sung the number in a master class for Patti LuPone, who claimed never to have heard it. I think cutting it is a mistake. It’s an important moment for Billy, an expression that makes him something of a Don Giovanni, defying the Gods.

The most brilliant musical stroke for Billy is the reprise of If I Loved You, where Billy is finally able to say that he loved her.  He never actually says he loves her in the present tense,( although Julie manages to tell the dead Billy that she loves him). This is very near the end of his character arc, and Billy finds the way to say that he loved Julie using the musical language she taught him at the beginning of the play. The painful truth for the audience is that she is unable to hear him in this, the only true expression of his love.

Music plays one further role in the storytelling here, in a way that works whether the audience understands it or not. After Julie’s speech to the dead Billy, Nettie encourages her  to say the words stitched into a sampler Julie had made for her. Julie sings them, but is unable to complete the first phrase, and Nettie begins again and sings You’ll Never Walk Alone. In the world of the play these words hold a deeply comforting and healing power; they are part of the shared cultural resources of the community. They are evidently shared commonly by everyone; at the conclusion of the musical, Dr. Seldon refers to them as a song they used to sing every morning on the way to school. Then they sing the song together. The stage directions call for Julie’s voice to join them at “Walk on, walk on”. This is music as a healing power. Julie has taught Billy to express love through one beautiful song, and when he is gone, the community teaches her to move on through another.

I have read in several places that the ending of the show doesn’t feel as good on the drive home as it did in the theatre. If the message is only, “Your choices are your destiny. Don’t hit people”, then the closing chorus of You’ll Never Walk Alone feels very hollow indeed. But if this is a story about how couples teach each other to sing, and how we can sing each other through difficult times together, then the anthem is truly the perfect, and most beautiful expression of everything that is right about Carousel.

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3 comments

  1. Dear Mr. Hilliard,

    Your essay on CAROUSEL was extremely enlightening and very helpful to me. I am directing the show for our local community theater company and will be sure to share your words with our musical director and members of the cast.

    One thing, however, you didn’t discuss: What is the symbolism of the carousel? I’ve searched and searched, but have been unable to find any writing on that subject. I understand: The carousel goes round and round, always coming back to the same place. Is that the clue? Do you have any thoughts on this issue?

    Thanks again for your essay, and if you can answer my question I’d be extremely grateful.

    Andy


    • I’m glad the article was helpful to you!

      I can’t speak for Molnar on the symbolism of the Carousel, although it’s possible he wrote about it somewhere. I think your hunch is right. Like the wheel in Carmina Burana, fate moves inexorably around and people fulfill whatever destinies await them. The symbolism of the waltz as it relates to the carousel is even more interesting to me. Waltzing couples each spin in their own sphere, but also circle the dance floor as couples in a giant circle. The combination of the close-held partnering of the dance with the dizziness of the spinning caused many 19th century moralists to condemn it as a dangerously sexual dance, warning that young women would be prey to unscrupulous men. A carousel at a fair or amusement park has the same kind of giddy, careening quality about it, with the exaggerated animal poses, the bright colors, the loud and garish music, and a kind of forced gaiety that gives a feeling of euphoria to the rider. Today, as fewer and fewer people have ridden Carousels, and as the waltz recedes ever more and more into the quaint past, people no longer have the cultural vocabulary to hear the threads the writers have woven into the story. But I think Julie’s initial infatuation with Billy is meant to evoke this heightened state of the waltz and the carnival, and they are meant to be seen enacting some story older than they know.

      Best of luck with your production!


  2. Hey there! I wanted to say that I read through this religiously last year (I am reading this again because it’s come to my mind again) when I was recording my LP ‘All the Queen’s Men, Vol. 1.’ I covered “Geraniums in the Winder” because I have a complicated relationship with/ feelings about Enoch Snow. This piece helped me out tremendously to map out how I felt about him/ the song and helped explain to fans why I put it on the record (here it is, if you’re interested: https://lebasfondmusic.bandcamp.com/track/geraniums-in-the-winder) . Honestly, you’ve written some of the most lovely, realistic and in-depth pieces on a show that has no real moral statement/ evokes such intense reactions from audiences. Thank you, again! It is ALWAYS a pleasure to read anything you write.



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