Carousel, Musical by R. Rodgers
Carousel is proof that even a story that has unemployment, domestic violence and criminality doesn’t need to get in the way of a feel-good musical. In fact, Time Magazine in 1999, as it looked back across the twentieth century, an era that included the likes of Anything Goes, Guys and Dolls, and Sunset Boulevard, adjudged Carousel to be the best of them all.
Carousel was created for the stage by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Its combination of gritty realism and fantasy was the perfect way to tell us that no one is beyond redemption. At its heart, Carousel is a show that restores our faith in the good in people.
Billy Bigelow and Julie Jordan’s relationship hardly gets off to the best of starts. Both lose their jobs, resulting in a frustrated Billy, unable to find work, lashing out at Julie. When she tells him she is pregnant, Billy, full of remorse, is torn between begging for his old job back at the fairground or taking part in a robbery. Fatefully, as he reflects on the possibility that his unborn child might be a girl and truly need a father, he chooses the path that promises more money: a life of crime.
Waiting for the right moment to burgle Mr Bascombe, the local mill owner, Billy loses his potential share of the spoils in a card game with his accomplice, Jigger. Bascombe, armed with a gun, foils the theft. Jigger runs off and just as Bascombe is about to pull the trigger, Billy stabs himself and dies.Fifteen years on, Billy’s spirit is given one chance to enter heaven; a single day to make amends for his past life. Returning to Earth, he becomes a guardian angel to his daughter, Louise, who ostracised at school, is at risk of becoming as much an outcast as her father.
Despite its grimmer moments, the songs in Carousel are invariably uplifting. “If I loved you”, thanks to Rodgers’ brilliant use of harmony, is heartwarming without being mawkish whereas the familiar refrain of “You’ll never walk alone” has enjoyed a life of its own beyond Carousel. To hear it when Julie is being consoled as Billy lies dying gives this much-loved tune a completely different perspective.
Premiered on 19 April 1945 at the Majestic Theatre on Broadway, to universal acclaim, it’s now the Volksoper Wien’s turn to stage one of the great works of our time.