Seeing a Broadway show is truly an incredible experience. Theatre brings out the best of me no matter how sad or funny the show is. It’s always special to see something on stage. I had the pleasure of not only attending the recent revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s masterpiece Carousel, but I saw it on closing day. Let me say that this was quite the experience. There was a different energy in the room while I waited for the curtain to rise. You could just tell something was in the air and it was great to witness.
Carousel is a musical that is rich in history. The show originally was on Broadway back in 1945 and has been revived numerous times. An interesting fact is that the show was not eligible to win any Tonys at its premiere because the Tony Awards were not even established until two years later, in 1947. It was revived in 1957 and received the Tony for Best Scenic Design. Again in 1994 it was revived and won every Tony it was nominated for including Best Revival of a Musical, Best Direction of a Musical and Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical which was Audra McDonald’s first Tony win. This show also served as a launching pad for McDonald who later went on to become the first person to win a Tony in all four acting categories.
Carousel takes place in a Maine coastal village toward the end of the 19th century. A swaggering carefree carnival barker by the name of Billy Bigelow captivates and marries the naïve millworker Julie Jordan. Billy then loses his job just as he learns that Julie is pregnant and, desperately intent upon providing a decent life for his family, he is coerced into being an accomplice to a robbery. Caught in the act and facing the certainty of prison, he takes his own life and is sent 'up there.' Billy can return to earth for one day fifteen years later, and he encounters the daughter he never knew. She is a lonely, friendless teenager, her father's reputation as a thief and bully having haunted her throughout her young life. How Billy instills in both the child and her mother a sense of hope and dignity is a dramatic testimony to the power of love. *
Let’s start by just focusing on the pure talent this cast and creative team have. Going into this show, I knew very little. I knew the name, who it was by and the incredible song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” but other than that not much. Justin Peck choreographed the show and won a Tony as well. Little did I know that it would be such a heavy dancing show and it was absolutely beautiful. As someone who has no training in dance I was moved so much on an emotional level of how intricate and thrilling it was to see dance numbers like “The Carousel Waltz.” It was also a true treat to see the phenomenal 10-minute-long dance scene titled “Ballet” where we are introduced to Julie and Billy’s daughter. The set features various scene changes from the beach, to the restaurant in which Nettie works as well as the forest in the beginning but nothing quite captures the show more than when the top of the carousel is flown in.
What makes this production shine even brighter than lights on a carousel is the divine cast that was put together. As a group and through individual performances, this cast collectively created a radiant ensemble piece. Tony Award winning Jessie Mueller and is fragile but powerful in her portrayal as Julie Jordan. Her slow but patient build up of emotion through the first Act until Billy’s death easily was the reason why she was nominated for a Tony. Joshua Henry plays Billy and while it’s hard to hate him due to the violence his character portrays, you can’t help but be captivated by his gorgeous and rich voice. After seeing this show I now know why so many were upset he lost the Tony for Leading Actor in a Musical. He had the ability to literally make my heart tremble with how full and deep it was.
The production originally opened with Renée Fleming as the role of Nettie Fowler however for the last couple of weeks up till its closing, she was out. However clearly if you’re going to be an understudy for Renée Fleming you’d expect them to be pretty phenomenal and Rosena M. Hill Jackson was without a doubt. Her kind and gentle nature came through as she cares for Julie before and after Billy’s death. Was there also a dry eye in the audience during “You’ll Never Walk Alone?” There wasn’t. It was heart-wrenching to listen, but I would pay money to hear it again and again.
Highlight of the cast for me was Lindsay Mendez in the role of Carrie Pipperidge, who ended up winning her first Tony for this role and it was so well deserved. Her dialect and comedic timing are spot in. While the show has a bit of an uplifting ending, it can be rather depressing at times and thankfully Mendez keeps parts of the show light as well as probably keeping the audience from spiraling into a deep depression upon leaving the theatre. Her voices soars and compliments Rodger and Hammerstein’s beautiful score so well that Mister Snow became one of my top musical theatre songs on my Spotify playlist.
While this show is extraordinarily written and deals with very real issues including domestic abuse, the thing I couldn’t help but continuously think about is how does it survive in a #MeToo climate? Was this show successful because of the high-profile cast? Will it forever be revived on Broadway every decade because of the name power of Rodger and Hammerstein name? I think we as a society have it easy to simply say “Why didn’t she leave him? He hit her. Why?” instead of blaming Billy. Also I think why it’s such a timeless show is because it feels so real. These situations happen and still happen every day. however what is hard to grasp is how Julie tries to paint the picture to her young daughter.
The revival opened also during a moment when many questioned and challenged the role of women in classical Broadway musicals. More on this can be found through a New York Times article that can be found below and I highlight suggest reading it.
Carousel will forever be cemented into the cannon of great theatre musicals. It’s real, raw and features one of the most beautifully crafted scores in musical theatre history. I am forever grateful that my firs experience with this show was on the closing night of a revival featuring an incredible cast and crew along with the fact it was on Broadway.
Carousel opened on Broadway on April 12, 2018 and closed six-months later on September 16, 2018.
*Summary was lifted from www.rnh.com