Book & Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Music by Richard Rodgers
adapted from Liliom, a play by Franc Molnar

INFO:

Opened at the Majestic Theatre   April 19, 1945   890 performances (often revived)
Original Director: Rouben Mamoulian
Original Choreographer: Agnes DeMille
Original Producer: R&H
Original Leads: Billy: John Raitt    Julie: Jan Clayton
Cast Size: Male: 5   Female: 4   Ensemble: Huge   Total Cast Size: 9 plus ensemble, at least 16, so 25 or more. Plus some children.
Orchestra: 23, can be done with 18 plus two synths. There’s a two piano arrangement.
Published Script: Random House
Production Rights: Rodgers & Hammerstein Library
Recordings: The original production, many others.  The most complete might be the 1993 revival directed by Nicholas Hytner.
Film: An okay movie with Gordon McCrae and Shirley Jones, follows the show fairly well.
Other shows by the authors: Oklahoma, Allegro, South Pacific, The King & I, Flower Drum Song, The Sound of Music    Hammerstein: Show Boat   Rodgers:  No Strings, Pal Joey, Babes In Arms
Awards: Before there were Tony Awards.

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

This is a very large show, and hard to do. The casting needs are specific and rigorous. The set and costume requirements are significant. The choreographic requirements are strenuous. Only the most well-established companies, with a large stage and good technical support, should really try this show. It could work for some colleges and universities, but not for many of them. Good for regional theatre companies, some Broadway revivals.

Be Warned:

A huge show. If you’re wondering if it’s too big for your needs, then it is. (Of course, it can be done almost without sets or orchestra, but the cast will always be large, and costuming might be an issue, but actually should not cost too much.)

The subject matter is often ugly, and involves beatings, robbery, a suicide. The leading roles are all very flawed people, in different ways. If any of this will offend your audience or players, consider another show.

This is, almost needless to say, usually considered a great musical, and has been produced many times. If you’re considering doing it, you may wish to check around your area to see if it has been done there the past few years, first. That said, it does not receive anywhere near the number of productions it used to.

THE STORY:

ACT ONE: An amusement park on the New England coast. “The Carousel Waltz” is the only this that is heard, this first scene is otherwise silent. Locals move about the park. “Three beauties of Europe” dance on a platform for the rubes. Billy Bigelow, a barker for the carnival, stands and watches people pass. A juggler juggles. The carousel stop, people disembark. A sailor and girl walk by, the girl asks the sailor to get her ice cream, and then flirts with Billy. The sailor returns and is going to pick a fight with Billy when he notices how large Billy is. The sailor retreats with the girl. Billy steps over to Mrs. Mullin, the woman ion charge, ignoring the crowd of adoring females that follow him. She appreciates the attention. Carrie and Julie enter the park. Carrie is naive, direct, a young woman. Julie is quieter. Billy nearly bumps into Julie, but they each move on. Billy and another barker compete for customers. The people sway to Billy’s word, except Julie. He notices her. He starts losing the crowd but then gets it together, and again captures at least the women’s attention. He fills the carousel. Julie is forced out by the crowd, but Billy, taking an exaggeratedly gallant approach, offers her his arm and leads her to the carousel, which displeases Mrs. Mullin. He helps Julie on the carousel, though he’s no more interested in her than any of the many women who can’t take their eyes off of him. Yet he steps onto the carousel to lean against her horse. Mrs. Mullin is furious.

A tree-lined path along the shore. Carrie and Julie are headed home, it’s getting late. But Mrs. Mullin chases Julie and let’s her know she’s never to return to her carousel, and she isn’t nice about it. She claims Billy place an arm around Julie’s waist. Billy follows, and Mullin tells Billy Julie is never allowed on the carousel again. He simply agrees and tells the two girls to go home, and pleased, Mullin offers him a drink. But Julie is not an easy quitter, and wants to know if he would really throw her off. When Billy finds out why Mullin won’t allow Julie on – that he placed his arms bout her waist – he lets Mullin know he can do that with any lady he wants. Mullin fires him. He mildly accepts it, and she’s surprised and backtracks. He insists Mullin apologize to Julie, who is upset he may lose his job. Billy even threatens Mullin. She departs hastily. The girls feel badly for him, and he asks them to give him some money for a beer. But he’s only kidding them, since they feel so guilty. He asks them to wait until he gets his things from the carousel, and then he’ll buy them a drink.

Carrie wants to know if Julie likes Billy, and insists that in her silence and depth, “You’re A Queer One, Julie Jordon”. But Carrie has her own secret. She has a feller of her own, “Mister Snow”, and plans to marry the man. Billy rejoins the girls, and is surprised to find both of them there. He’s only inviting one. Carrie lets him know that whichever one stays loses her job, because they live at the mill boarding house, and if they show up late they’re locked out. Julie thinks, and sends Carrie home. This is important enough for Julie to lose her job. Billy looks at her, surprised. They’re both out of work. They talk, and he asks if she has a boyfriend. She says no, but he doesn’t believe her. She must be experienced, because Billy has a reputation everyone knows about, and she was willing to stay here alone with him…so she must be experienced and know what she’s doing. But she lets him know she stayed so he would not be alone, and because he was kind to her. He doesn’t get her, and makes a move on her, but a policeman walks by. Mr Bascombe, an obviously wealthy man who owns the local mill, walks by and speaks to the policeman. The policeman asks if Julie is one of “his” girls. Bascombe recognizes Julie and asks why she’s out so late – too late to get to the boarding house on time.

Billy angrily wants to know who Bascombe is, and the policeman threatens Billy. Billy, says the cop, specializes in getting young girls “mooney”, promising to marry them and then taking their money. Julie brightly volunteers that she hasn’t any money. Bascombe offers to take Julie to the boarding house and take care of everything…but she decides to stay. Alone again, Julie insists Billy finish the “tale” he was telling her, in an attempt to make out with her. Now Billy is confused. Why isn’t she afraid of him? He reprises “You’re A Queer One, Julie Jordan”, and wonders if she’s ever had a feller. She lets him know she plans never to marry. He asks what she’d do if he proposed. She says she’d marry, “If I Loved You”. And he finds as she sings, to his own surprise, that he’s thinking about what it would be like “If I Loved You”. He comes to his senses and lets her know he’s not the marrying type. But then, they kiss.

Nettie Fowler’s Spa, on the ocean front. Men carry baskets of clams on the dock. The women folk are cooking up doughnuts and other delectables. Carrie, helping in the kitchen, tells the men to be quiet and stop demanding food. But everyone is ready for a celebration, because, well, “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over”. And that apparently means that wooing time has officially begun.

Julie enters and speaks with Carrie. She’s been looking for Billy, who went out with Jigger Craigin, a sailor on a whaler sailing tomorrow. Julie doesn’t like Jigger and will be glad his boat sails. Billy has not found work, and Netty has nicely allowed them to stay at her place until he does. Carrie tells Julie that her man, Mr. Snow, says there’s lots of work for a man who isn’t lazy. Billy, however, hasn’t a trade, and refuses to go back to the carousel. And he hit Julie. But Julie won’t leave the man. Carrie tells Julie the day is coming when she marries “Mr. Snow” (reprise). Mr. Snow shows up and overhears her, to Carrie’s embarrassment. Snow has flowers for Carrie. He’s a good, quiet, hard-working and simple man. Julie wishes them luck, and Carrie allows Snow to kiss Julie’s cheek. But in his arms, Julie starts to weep, and then stops as Billy approaches. She introduces Billy as her husband. But Billy isn’t listening, and demands she accuse him of staying out all night, being jobless, living off her Cousin Nettie. And he’s brought Jigger with him, a human piece of slime. Billy and Jigger depart. Julie hurries into the house, humiliated.

Carrie and Snow talk, and he shares his small-town but ambitious plans for the future with her, and she with him. (“When The Children Are Asleep”) They do love each other, and exit together.

Whalers start singing “Blow High, Blow Low”, a-whalin we will go. Billy and Jigger are with them. Jigger speaks privately with Billy about his plan to rob Mr. Bascombe, who owns the mill and Jigger’s ship. There is supposed to be fog that night, and Bascombe often walks alone at night. Jigger tells Billy to go to the clambake, on a nearby island, with Julie, and he’ll join them. His plan – wait for fog, the two men slip away in a boat, commit the crime and get back to the island with a perfect alibi. Billy’s part of the crime is to ask Bascombe for the time, while Jigger knifes the man. And he thinks Billy should bring a knife, too, just in case. Billy doesn’t feel good about murder, so Jigger tells him to forget bringing a knife. Billy considers it, he’s broke. Mrs. Mullin approaches Billy to talk business, but really expresses a romantic interest in Billy. He rejects her, but she still wants him back, the girls all ask for him. But to work for her, he has to leave Julie, who he beats and everyone knows it. Billy misses the life he had, and thinks about it. Julie steps out and finds Billy with Mullin. Julie wants to speak with him, but he tells her to leave him alone. Mullin leaves him to think about her proposition.

Billy looks like he will leave Julie (which would doubtless be for her own good), when she tells him that she’s pregnant. He’s stunned. They embrace gently. Jigger calls to Billy, who tells the nasty man that his wife is pregnant, and he rushes into the house to be with her. Jigger talks to Mullin, back for her answer to her proposition. She lets him know she would not let Billy hang around Jigger, she knows that Jigger gets men killed, and he exits. Billy steps out to reject Mrs. Mullin, and to dream in “Soliloquy” what his boy, Bill, will be like. And what if he’s a she! He’s got something to live for, now, even die for.

Nettie lets everyone know it’s time to head for the island. Billy tells Jigger he’s in. Jigger tells him to steal a kitchen knife. Julie is happy Billy’s going to the clambake. Billy offers to get her shawl inside – but he’s really after the knife. Julie tells Carrie Billy’s going, and is thrilled until Jigger introduces himself to Carrie, looking her over. Billy lets Jigger know he has a knife. They head for the island.

ACT TWO: On the island across the bay. Night, a moon is up. Billy rests, his head on Julie’s lap. Everyone has “et” their full, because, well, “This Was A real Nice Clambake”. Jigger contemplates having Carrie. There’s going to be a treasure hunt, and Jigger tells Billy they’ll ditch out during it. Carrie approaches to ask Billy to help Carrie, and asks why Jigger isn’t working to clean up the picnic, like everyone else. Jigger suddenly grabs Carrie and says he’ll kill himself at sea without a kiss from her. She starts off, and he tries another tactic. He says hell show her how to defend herself from bad men, and she’s aggressive enough to be interested in that. Of course, Jigger uses the opportunity to get his hands all over her. But Mr. Snow has stepped in and is watching. She explains Jigger was showing her how to defend herself, and Snow points out it doesn’t look like she learned much. His dreams of “Geraniums In The Winder” and a life with Carrie are shattered. Jigger laughs, because “There’s Nothin’ So Bad For A Woman” as a virtuous man. Carrie begs for Snow’s forgiveness while Jigger gloats. Snow angrily departs.

The treasure hunt is going to start, and Julie asks Billy not to go with Jigger. Julie is advised by all the womanfolk, but she asks “What’s The Use Of Wonderin’” if a man is good or bad, because if you love him there are no questions.

The mainland waterfront. Billy and Jigger wait for Bascombe. Billy asks if Jigger has eve killed a man before, Jigger doesn’t answer, and Billy expresses some concern about having to come before his maker someday and account for his actions. They wait, expecting Bascombe to carry $3,000, as he always does. They play cards waiting, and Jigger effectively cheats and wins everything Billy would have made on the robbery. He’s furious, but Bascombe enters. The man stops Jigger from stabbing him, and calls for help, even as he pulls a gun to defend himself. Jigger twists away suddenly and runs before Bascombe’s help can arrive. Bascombe holds Billy in gun sight. But Billy isn’t going to jail for anyone, and raises his knife…to stab himself in the stomach, crying Julie’s name. Bascombe is stunned as help arrives – he didn’t have any money yet, the men were too stupid to notice he was going to the ship (where he collects), not from it. Jigger has escaped. Julie arrives to find Billy dying. She speaks to him softly, and he dies. Her Cousin Nettie asks her to stay on at her place and have the child, and keep living. (“You’ll Never walk Alone”) The women leave.

Two “Heavenly Friends” collect Billy, and the play suddenly becomes a fantasy. It seems as long as one person on Earth remembers you, you do not fully die. Billy doesn’t want a minor judge for his case, he wants “The Highest Judge Of Them All”. He’s taken to the Starkeeper, a man seated atop a stepladder, hanging stars in the sky. The Starkeeper makes it clear that Billy will go where they tell him to. He asks Billy if he left anything unfinished on Earth. Billy asks if he had a boy or a girl. But he’s ashamed to admit he loved Julie. And he doesn’t agree that he beat her – he hit her. And he’s not sorry for anything. The Starkeeper tells Billy he didn’t do enough good in life to get into Heaven, even through the back gate. But there’s still a chance. He suggests that Billy return to Earth for one day, and perhaps help his daughter, who’s now fifteen years-old. His girl is unhappy. And he can see her – his girl.

On a beach. Louise, Billy’s girl, plays on the beach. Mr. Snow enters, leading his six children who invite Louise to play. But Mr. Snow rejects Louise, and his kids follow his example. One daughter remains behind to taunt Louise about her shabby upbringing, and the fact that her father was a thief.

A Carnival troupe enters, and a carny boy not unlike her father when Billy was young interests her. The boy flirts (in dance), but she’s too young and he leaves. She’s humiliated and weeps. Everyone rejects her. Billy is angry the Starkeeper has “made” him look at this sorrow. A Heavenly Friend prepares to show Billy the way to Earth for one day, to help his daughter. Billy steals a single star, pocketing it and sure he’s gotten away with it, though the Starkeeper and Friends see it very plainly.

Outside Julie’s cottage. Carrie and Julie talk about Carrie’s trip to NYC with Mr. Snow and their nine children (?!) Mr. Snow interrupts her description of a sort of “nasty” show with girls they saw in New York, to point out they also saw Julius Caesar. Carrie is still a little wild, but Mr. Snow and she have come to an understanding that’s who she is.

Enoch Snow, Jr. stays behind to talk to Louise. Billy arrives with a friend who assures them they cannot be seen by the living. Louise tells Enoch Jr. she’s going to be an actress, and run away with a troupe passing through. He plans to stop her by marrying her. She lets him now she would not marry a Snow, given how much Mr. Snow hates her father, and how he’s treated Louise. Billy asks to be visible to Louise, who is now alone and heartbroken. And he is visible. He calls to her, and she wants to know how he knows her name. Billy says he knew her father. He tells her Snow Jr. was lying, and she informs Billy that everyone in town knows what a louse Billy was, and they’ve thrown it at her face her whole life. Everyone but her mother, who made up stories about Billy to hide his bad death.

But she wants to hear something good about her father, anything. Billy tells her how he used to make jokes at the carousel, and make people laugh. He offers her a gift, and she becomes afraid of him. But he pulls the star from his vest, even as the Friend smiles. She is scared, and won’t accept a gift from this strange man, and without thought he slaps her hand. She runs away to find her mother.

The Friend notes Billy’s failure, as he has done what he always did, hit those he loves. He does not want Julie to see him, and she does not, as Louise and Julie enter. Louise was more surprised than hurt – in fact the slap felt as though he’d kissed her hand. And Louise asks if it’s possible for someone to hit you and have it not hurt at all. Louise steps into the house, but Billy (unseen) approaches Julie and whispers “If I Loved You” in her ear. And Julie takes the star, almost as if she knew he was there.

Billy is determined to help his daughter somehow. He goes to her graduation. People receive their diplomas. But when Louise is called up, only Julie applauds, with Carrie for a moment. The speaker at graduation is the local doctor – the same actor who plays the Starkeeper. The man suggests the kids live their own lives, and not be held up by their parent’s successes or held down by their failures. Billy whispers in Louise’s ear, begging her to listen to the man. And the man starts singing ”You’ll Never Walk Alone” (why, when he just told them to walk their own path?), Billy joins in, then everyone, and Louise is suddenly accepted by the others around her. Billy follows the Heavenly Friend out, presumably to Heaven.

THE SONGS:

“The Carousel Waltz”, “You’re A Queer One, Julie Jordon”, “Mister Snow”, “If I Loved You”, “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over”, “When The Children Are Asleep”, “Blow High, Blow Low”, “Soliloquy”, “This Was A Real Nice Clambake”, “Geraniums In The Winder”, “There’s Nothin’ So Bad For A Woman”, “What’s The Use of Wonderin’”, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, “The Highest Judge Of All”

Hits include “If I Loved You”, “Soliloquy”, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”

MY OPINIONS:

You are free, as always, to ignore this section and go straight to the breakdown of the show below. Of course, if you do, you deserve the real nice clambake of a show you’re liable to produce…

A warning – this is going to be a bit long. This is an important show, and I want to state my case clearly.

Carousel is, for me, very much a mixed bag, with glories and embarrassments side by side in it. I think it has some gorgeous numbers in it, such as the three listed above as “hits”, as well as the Carousel Waltz, one of the most memorable instrumental themes to ever be placed in a Broadway show. These pieces are immortal, and lend the show much of its (in my opinion) undeserved nobility and audience acceptability.

But Carousel also has some of R&Hs absolute worst work. “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over”, besides having one of the worst titles of all time (who is June, and what is she bustin’ out of?), is an utterly terrible dramatic moment in which, well, nothing happens. We’re introduced to a season, because…um…we’ve never seen the month of June before, and that does not make for great dramaturgy. Worse, though, is my vote for perhaps the worst show tune ever written by major writers, “This Is A Real Nice Clambake.” I like clams okay, but to stop a major Broadway musical to sing about how we’re all chums at this here clambake and boy oh boy did we “et”a lot…oy. Another waste of time, one that tells us nothing about the characters, the plot. But it sure is embarrassing. And it starts Act II in the flattest possible way, when the action and the stakes should almost immediately escalate. These numbers are excuses for a major choreographer to do her work. Ballet and that sort of dance was popular in musicals in the 40s, thanks to R&Hs earlier hit, Oklahoma. And that fact hurt more shows through the 40s than I care to think about. It renders many of them almost impossible to produce today.

For what it’s worth, Carousel is a better show than Oklahoma (which I give 0 stars). But this score is, for me, so hit and miss that I can’t rank it with the great shows. It’s filled with Hammerstein’s uncontrolled passion for allusions to nature, and pigeon-English, even when spoken by people who use English every day. They can’t say “wondering,” it has to be “wonderin’.” Yes, there are, of course, regional dialects, but this sort of writing is an attempt to control what the actor is going to do with the lyric, and again, I find it embarrassing. Hammerstein’s lyrics generally lower the impact of this show, in my opinion. And you are, as always, free to disagree with me. And before you call me an R&H hater, I love South Pacific, The King & I, and even Allegro. So put that in your clambake and “et” it.

Hammerstein’s book for Carousel is overall not very good, with lots of the tension it does have borrowed from Liliom, the play adapted by R&H. It has some good moments like when Julie speaks to Billy’s dead body, and it has some good laugh lines. But Carousel is supposed to be another example of the “integrated Musical”, in which every number, every dance contributes to the action and our understanding of characters in the piece. This means you should not be able to remove songs or dances and understand the piece, and that if you did, it’s characters and plot would be made less, or even incomprehensible. Go ahead and remove “June Is…”, or “Clambake…”, or half of the other songs. “Geranium’s…” is a red herring at best, since it expresses Mr. Snow’s grief at Carrie’s “foolin’ around”…and then he marries her and has either six or nine kids, depending on which part of the script you wish to believe.

Like both of Hammerstein’s earlier “masterpieces”, Show Boat and Oklahoma, I believe Carousel is really an operetta on steroids. I believe these shows are a culmination of an earlier form, provided more depth of character perhaps than was usual, and certainly more memorable music. Carousel has all the earmarks of operetta, including happy dancing townsfolk (“June Is…”, “Clambake”, “Blow High, Blow Low”), people who fall in love over the duration of an operatic song, and great, big operatic solos. As to these shows being credited with creating some sort of new mold, a new kind of “integrated” musical as touted by various critics and Musical Theater aficionados, it’s simply not the case. These are operettas with some modern subject matter (anti-heroes, sexual hijinks), but they are operettas nonetheless.

Unfortunately, there’s more. I think this is Hammerstein’s least moral show, and I’m not smiling as I write this.

I find Billy an extraordinarily unlikeable anti-hero. He strikes helpless women, his wife and his daughter. They accept it because they love him, but I sure don’t. A man striking women repeatedly, his wife and his daughter, is disgusting. Love does not make such things acceptable, not to me. And Julie saying it’s all okay because she loves him is beyond ridiculous. Even Hammerstein seemed to recognize this, as Julie breaks down in tears in Mr. Snow’s arms, a fine and moving moment in the script. Billy is given a chance to do right – steals something – and then doesn’t really do anything right. All he does is whisper in her daughter’s ear to hear what another man is saying. He has no action, makes no sacrifice, changes in no perceivable way other than to finally admit he loves the wife he left with child when he committed suicide, all those years earlier. A wife, by the way, he was going to dump for a job and another woman before she told Billy that she was pregnant, the only reason he sticks around. This man is never noble, and I personally can’t root for him. And then, what, he’s accepted into heaven. Okay. It’s a fantasy.

It isn’t just Billy who bugs me, it’s all the major characters, every one of them. Julie enables Billy right to the bitter end. She doesn’t leave him and take her child with her, to protect the kid from his out-of-control ego and temper. She loves Billy, so it’s okay if he beats her. Really? Carrie is an idiot. She’s engaged, but allows an obvious slime, Jigger, to place his paws all over her, so she can ‘learn how to defend herself.” It’s a ridiculous moment, and renders both characters unlikeable. (Of course, we already hate Jigger.) And Mr. Snow is a stiff-necked prig. He is rendered indefensible in his rejection of Louise, setting an example of small-town bigotry and intolerance for his large brood.

This is a show drowning in unsavory characters and ugly activity. I do not like “squeaky clean” shows on the other end, I do not care for the kind of sugary goo that Sound of Music dishes out, as an example. But Carousel is bizarre in its wallowing in the mud, and passing it off as entertainment. It gets away with what it gets away with thanks entirely to Rodgers often exquisite music, music that encourages us to feel and to care. But such a response to this show in unmerited.

There are more problems, structural problems. The largest is the sudden change in the middle of Act II from a serious melodrama with murder and suicide and beatings in it, to a fantasy with helpful angels, is very strange. There’s no warning, no set-up at all, it just happens. I find this jarring, and it deflates and almost makes a joke of everything the precedes it in the play. What does all the violence and cruelty matter if there’s just going to be comic divine intervention at the end? It will all end up fine, no matter what, the angels are in town. It’s almost as if Hammerstein had read too much Greek tragedy without really understanding the whole “Dues ex-machina” thing, the “God in a machine” that intervenes at the end. Yes, Carousel has some of the workings of classical tragedy, an inevitability that leads to Billy’s demise through his own tragic failings. But the intrusion following Billy’s demise by angels, almost everything to follow, feels contrived. Not unnecessary, as this show somehow must relieve itself of its brutal conclusion, just contrived.

And yes, you need something that looks like a working carousel on stage, that can then be removed. No, really, I’m not kidding.

I don’t actually like Carousel, in case you weren’t certain. I love some of the music, some of the moments, and it is more interesting, certainly, than thousands of run-of-the-mill Musicals that I don’t bother to cover on this site. But this show doesn’t work well for me, overall. My one star rating is generous, and a nod to the show’s many fans.

MY RATING: * (A better-than-average and interesting show, right for many groups)

 

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:

The score is rich in melody. It isn’t very hard to play, but it requires a good pianist, expertise in operetta-ish forms. Billy and Julie need borderline legit opera voices. A show that can survive a smaller orchestra, but certainly sounds better with a big one. Your four leads do the vast majority of the singing, which is not so great given the size of the cast needed to do the show.  Find a Musical Director who is good working with developed and trained voices.

Billy – Baritone with a powerful, expressive voice, semi-operatic control, a big mid-register and clean, soaring high notes.

Julie – Soprano with a beautiful, semi-operatic voice (without the heavy vibrato). Emotionally expressive, strong in mid-range, good high notes.

Carrie – Comic alto, strong belt, good with lyrics, good high notes. Must also have a near-legit quality at times.

Mr. Snow – Tenor, full belt in mid-register, lovely voice.

Starkeeper – Non-Singing.

Mrs. Mullin – Non-Singing.

Jigger – Baritone, solid bottom, good mid-range, character-driven voice.

Louise – Non-Singing.

Mr. Bascombe – Non-Singing.

Nettie Fowler – Mezzo, good belt, good with a lyric.

Ensemble – Lots of singing and dancing to do. Good voices, clean high notes, decent blets, good at harmonizing.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:

There are big dance sequences in this show.. They require a feel like ballet, but must remain true to the locale. These people should dance like New Englanders, or at least some of the movement should remind us that is what they are. The Choreographer for this show must have a real ballet background, and know how to work with colloquial moves. This is a large job.

The numbers a Choreographer is likely to have to stage include “The Carousel Waltz”, “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over”,“Blow High, Blow Low”,“This Was A Real Nice Clambake”, and “There’s Nothin’ So Bad For A Woman”. This is a pretty thankless job, since a lot of this is window-dressing, and does not forward the story.

“The Carousel Waltz” should be a cross between mime, action and dance. It should develop elements of movement to tell story and establish characters, rather than for movement’s sake. You’ll need to establish Billy as desired by every woman who sees him, and a barker who loves his work, loves the carousel itself. The music is gorgeous, let it be heard. It is suggested in the script that you avoid literally choreographing the piece to the music, to the waltz and the counts, but rather create the feel and movement of the scene and allow the music to underscore. But the waltz is an irresistible form, and I do think you’ll need to have some of your movement tie into what Rodgers created here. Perhaps when people sway to Billy’s pitch, it could be in waltz time. Later, when he holds Julie on the Carousel, their movement can feel rhythmic and in time.

“June Is Busting…” needs energy, and commitment in design and execution to get around how essentially poor this moment is. And it is about sex, really, not about the season. It’s about boys and girls and spring, and needs to somehow contribute to the overall romantic tide of the show. Kid are high-steppin’ as they discover the world has turned again to love.

“Blow High” is a manly-man exercise, with sailors. Keep the movement simple and not dance-like. I’m not sure I’d choreograph this at all, out of fear for making these life-bitten and heard-working men seem less than, or different from, what they are. The number is itself a distraction and a red herring, structurally. It makes us think maybe Billy will join a whaling ship, which is never even in the discussion afterwords! So why is this song in the show? Beats me. Anyway, keep it simple, manly. With an unstaged feel.

“Clambake” sets up the violence to come, and offers a contrast to it. (There, I’ve offered you an excuse for its existence, one I really don’t believe.) It opens Act II, and clearly R&H knew they needed an energetic and dynamic opening to win the audience back. This is what they wrote. It can’t all be gold. Again, this is townsfolksy stuff, and the fact that they just ate and are all stuffed would seem to mitigate any possibility of anything high-energy happening here, which is what the show needs. The piece is also laid back in terms of tempo. Just do everything you can to make the audience feel like they are there, at a great clambake, with family and friends. I guess. Or cut it.

“There’s Nothin’ So Bad…” is the climax in a way of the Carrie/Mr. Snow subplot. It appears they are done. Amoral forces are at work leading to a dark doom, and the audience must get that from this number. But the singers also need to do a lot of singing here, and dance-dance is not called for, just movement and juxtapositions revealing character relationships that are changing.

There is more to choreograph. For instance, the first time we see Louise on the beach, it is another mime/dance sequence like the opening. Life is continuing inevitably, moving on, and filled with stresses and pains and hopes. This can be somewhat danced, and Louise should be cast as a dancer.

Work closely with your Director on this show! You’ll need to agree upon a movement concept that will support the action buried in these numbers. How much mime? What kind of mime? How much dance, what kind?

CASTING CONCERNS:

Billy – In his late 20s, early 30s or so. Handsome enough that every girl who meets him gets interested, and he can get his living (and his jollies) on his muscular and manly-man looks. A primitive man who only understands what he needs and wants right now, cursed with a foul temper and a proclivity toward violence without thought. But we must believe that somewhere in there is a heart and soul worth saving, and that on some level, he’s trying very hard to improve himself. And we should believe the actor when he says he will do whatever he needs to do to take care of his wife and expected child, or die. Intense, not very bright, lacking education or skills, he relies on brute strength and good looks to get through. Cast based on voice, then type and acting. A huge role, very demanding.

Julie – Age 16 to maybe early 20s or so. Beautiful and sweet, thoughtful, deep. A young woman who looks carefully and closely at the world. She knows her own mind, she does not double back or question herself. She loves completely and selflessly where she loves. But she is vulnerable, she can be hurt and even damaged, and though she will work to put up a brave front, inside she feels pain more severely than others generally do. Cast fore voice, type and acting. Very demanding dramatic role.

Carrie – About Julie’s age. A direct, normal girl of her time. Young, inexperienced but completely fearless, and intrigued by a challenge to the point where she will abandon common sense and even her own best interest. Attractive enough, smart enough. Cast for acting, voice, and type.

Mr. Snow – A few years older than Carrie. Simple, direct., a bit slow, but he knows what he’s going to do with his life and he does it. A product of a place and time, he is narrow-minded, to his detriment. An essentially unforgiving man who finds a way to forgive Carrie, to our surprise, and marry her. Stiff-necked, stiff-backed, proper to a fault. Cast for type, acting, then voice.

Starkeeper – A mature man, best at age 50 or older. A man who expresses power directly, clearly, but always holds something back. A game-player. Whimsical, wise. Cast for acting and type only. (Could double in Act I ensemble in small roles.)

Mrs. Mullin – A mature woman in her 40s or so. Pretty much a pig of a woman who attempts to have her cake and eat it, too. She wants Billy to attract other women and girls to her business – but wants him to belong exclusively to her sexually, romantically. She is crude, self-absorbed, unlikeable. Cast for type an acting.

Jigger – About Billy’s age, perhaps a bit older. Dangerous, violent, vile. A liar, a cheat who cheats other cheaters. A man who puts out that he’s game for everything, but who runs at the first sign of any danger and leaves the people he’s dragged in with him to their fate. A man who would rape a woman, take advantage of the innocent, and who is in every way disreputable. Cast for type, acting, voice.

Louise – Graduating High School. Lovely, attractive, but brutally damaged by the rejection she’s encountered her whole life. Must dance well.

Mr. Bascombe – In his 40s or older, a prosperous and good-hearted man. Cast for type and acting.

Nettie Fowler – Older than Carrie and Julie, perhaps by as much as 15 years or so. A heard-working, no-nonsense, good-willed woman. Cast for type, acting and voice, some movement.

Ensemble – Townspeople, a policeman, whalers, sailors, young girls, the Snow children and other children at graduation. Most should sing, many dance well.

SETS:

A pretty tough show at least in one way. The opening is in an Amusement Park in New England, circa 1873, on the coast. We must sense the sea nearby. We should see various acts, but they can walk on and off. And there must be a working carousel, or at least something that resembles one. And it must be able to be struck, and quickly. (You could use a turntable, and build the carousel on it, turning the turntable to make it spin.) Most of the stage needs to be open as this is one the largest dance sequences in the show.

And keep in mind the period.


Consider a small soapbox-like affair for Billy and his competing barker to stand on, one each. Get some bunting and balloons up.

Next, a tree-lined path along the shore, with a few benches. The beach can be established with sound, just as the Carousel Waltz provided a backdrop for the last scene. Vague, misty lighting in the background can signify an ocean view. The “trees” can be painted on a backdrop, or cut-aways, either way they could be lowered toward the mid-way point on the stage, allowing you to strike the carousel behind. The action for this scene is intimate, and can be pushed almost to the front of the stage. It is a long scene, and perhaps the key scene in the play, as we see Julie and Billy discover each other. Placing it close to the audience will help the scene feel intimate, and facilitate the set change.

Once you’ve struck the amusement park set behind the tree-lined set, put up Nettie Fowler’s spa. This set, again, needs lots of room to dance, so it should occupy roughly the same area as the amusement park set did.

That’s Act I, using something like a proscenium stage, and it actually isn’t too hard. Except for that carousel.

On the island across the bay. A beach with some woods, probably. Play this full stage, the sound of the ocean running through it. You’ll need the whole stage for the number. Then, go back to your tree-lined path again, pushing the action toward the front as before. Behind the drop, change the set to “Heaven”.

Up there should largely be a bare stage in darkness, with “stars” (paper-mache, tinsel, up to you) suspended fro the rafters (which can be lowered as they’re set for that). A ladder. Let lighting do everything else. If you want “clouds” drifting in and out, that might be good. They could even be projected.

I would strongly suggest that after Billy dies, your sets stop being realistic. I think it could all be played from that point on with the stars shining above (raised and out of reach), on a “bare stage” with clouds floating by, in isolated pools of light, as if it’s all through Billy’s eyes, and he does not see things “literally” anymore. This would include outside Julie’s cottage, and the graduation. Let lighting, and the actors, with some sound effects and the music, do the work. This will work better than placing Billy in a literal setting and pretending he can’t be seen. It will be more creative as an approach, and less expensive.

As described, there are only four sets. The first three should feel “real”, almost “literal.” The scene “up there” should not, and should not cost anything to put together. The tree-lined path should also be very inexpensive and simple to execute. That’s two for four, with almost no expense.

The spa ends Act I, and is basically a shack-like object on the beach. Most of the stage, as mentioned, needs to be open. The shack can be lowered as a part of the set, or a cut-away, but it doesn’t have to be much, and it could largely exist “off stage.” The island needs even less dressing, and really needs to just look like a different beach, with a greater sense of the nearby ocean in sounds and appearance.

So, your opening set is where your time and budget will be going. And you could go surreal with the carrousel, though I think it would hurt the “realism” that the show should display for the first 3/4ths of the night. We could see a lighting effect, shadows of horses going round and round, and a single horse on a free-standing pole that Julie climbs aboard, and Billy leans on. It might make this moment more magic, actually, implying that as the world goes round and makes noise, these two are alone and still. Worth a thought, and it would drop your set budget to almost nothing.

COSTUMES:

The play starts in 1873, in New England. It is an economically depressed area, not “big city.” Fishermen, whalers and the like live there with family. Do some research for paintings, to get a good idea of what these folks might have worn.

Julie and Billy must stand out, of course. He is a muscular man who enjoys attention for his looks, and your costuming must allow that to be believable. He may have time to change shirts a few times during the show. She is young and virginal, but not an airhead. She should look beautiful, a prize. Later, her daughter should be about as lovely.

Generally, though there will be many costumes, you shouldn’t have to build many. Thrift stores and closets may costume some of your show. Shouldn’t need much from a rental shop. Watch the shoes.

The Starkeeper and his Friends could be dressed in many ways. I would not go togas or stuff like that, nor would I give them wings. They talk like tough, friendly everyday men. Put them in everyday clothes like some nicer people “down there” might have worn. Or perhaps in period suits and hats. What happens at this point in the show is already unexpected and strange, I’d make these men look somehow familiar and safe to keep the audience in the game, as well as Billy. Besides, they might look and sound different for everyone they meet, depending on that person’s background.

Styles didn’t change as quickly then as now, but there may be some items you could use to signify the Act II jump of 15 years, after Billy’s demise.

PROPS:

Billy’s things which he retrieves from the carousel. Tickets to the carousel ride. Food at the amusement park. Food at Nettie’s. Food for the clambake. Lunch for me, all this talk of food has got me hungry. (How did that get in there? Sorry…) A small knife for Jigger, a kitchen knife., jagged and dangerous, for Billy. A gun for Bascombe. Various fishing nets or gear, and whaling paraphernalia. A star for the Starkeeper to hang. Diplomas. Nothing too hard.

LIGHTING:

This is a profoundly moody show. You’ll be using lighting to indicate proximity to the ocean, set changes, where the audience should look, mood changes, the surreal back gate of paradise, and a foggy-eyed view of the world from Billy’s perspective, after he dies. Your light plot will need to be versatile, and able to pin point action as needed. There are likely to be quite a few cues.

MAKE-UP:

All of it unobtrusive.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):

Director, Musical Director, Choreographer, Set Designer, Costume Designer, Billy, Julie, Carrie, Mr. Snow

MY THOUGHTS:

This is a big show, but outside of cast size, it can be done surprisingly on the cheap. There’s no way around the need for a lot of young kids, but maybe you can use a local Elementary School or kid’s drama class. There aren’t that many leads, and perhaps another 16 actors absolutely needed to sing, dance, play smaller roles. If you have the bodies and voices, you could consider Carousel.

But if you can do a show this size and you’re looking for a “serious” show along these lines, I truly believe there are better shows available. Ragtime, Street Scene, even Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific, all offer fantastic drama, beautiful scores, and better stories to tell.

That said, this is Carousel, one of the biggest hits ever. Rodgers said it was his favorite show.  In 1999, Time Magazine picked it the best Musical of the 20th Century.  (But they are certainly no experts in  the area.)  The show has its fans everywhere.  So what do I know?