CAROUSEL Savoy Theatre, London
I am frequently asked which five musicals I would like to take to a desert island with me, and while my answers invariably depend on the mood of the moment, the one that never changes is Carousel.
Written by Rodgers and Hammerstein in 1945, a year after their first collaboration, Oklahoma!, and based on a Hungarian play by Ferenc Molnar called Liliom, it has, arguably, the greatest, most melodious score R & H ever wrote.
Beginning with the lilting ‘Carousel Waltz’, and ending with a reprise of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, there isn’t a note in it that isn’t burnished with inspiration. One great tune follows another, and of all the memorable R & H love duets, is there any more hauntingly lovely – or moving than ‘If I Loved You’, sung by carnival barker Billy Bigelow and Julie Jordan, the factory girl he eventually marries – and to whom he brings such sadness?
Indeed, the scene, very early on in the show, in which Billy and Julie meet and fall in love is one of the most lyrical, brilliantly conceived in all musical comedy. The heartbreak that follows, as Billy loses his job, becomes a wife-beater and ultimately takes his own life after a robbery in which he is involved goes wrong, is hardly what audiences in 1945 expected from their musicals.
Yet, such was the ground-breaking genius of the team who wrote Carousel, that they were able to turn a potential no-go subject into a three-hankie weepie. Far from being a downer, it sends audiences home with hope in their hearts and on a decided high.
Yes, it is shamelessly sentimental, and yes, the fantasy elements in Act Two may not sit well with folk who like their musicals raunchier and with more sophistication attached. Well, that’s their loss.
For me, from the moment Billy returns to earth on a day’s furlough from Heaven in order to redeem himself in the eyes of his wife and teenage daughter, tears begin to well and they don’t stop until the curtain call.
And so it once again proved in Lindsay Posner’s glorious revival which also benefits from Adam Cooper’s robust choreography and William Dudley’s stunning visual concept. That said, there were occasions when I thought the show needlessly over-amplified, and I’d have preferred a more charismatic Billy Bigelow than Jeremiah James, who sang better than he acted.
No problems, though, with Alexandra Silber’s Julie – the best I’ve ever seen; Alan Vicary’s splendidly sung Mr. Snow, Lesley Garrett’s feisty and full-throated Nettie Fowler, and Graham MacDuff as Jigger, Billy’s obnoxious partner in crime.
A wonderful revival, then, and a chance to sample the pleasures of the classic Broadway musical at its very, very best.
CLIVE HIRSCHHORN, courtesy of This Is London.